The EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum: What Is It?

Author: Ilaria Canali
Editor: MinhAnh Nguyen

“Migration has always been and always will be part of our societies. What we are proposing today will build a long-term migration policy that can translate European values into practical management.  This set of proposals will mean clear, fair and faster border procedures, so that people do not have to wait in limbo. It means enhanced cooperation with third countries for fast returns, more legal pathways and strong actions to fight human smugglers. Fundamentally it protects the right to seek asylum.”

The EU’s Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson [1]

The European Union is a supranational organization composed of 27 member states. Born after the Second World War to avoid another conflict, the EU bases itself on the four fundamental freedoms that govern the movement of people, goods, services, and capital. It has set common rules and agreements in terms of human rights to which all states must oblige and adapt to their national legislation. 

This is also the case of migration, but just for a small part. During its short history, the EU set out several documents aimed at regulating illegal migration within its border and tried to establish a legal framework to protect the rights of asylum seekers. However, so far it has given its member states the total freedom to deal with migratory emergencies. There is no common approach to refugee acceptance in the EU. Regarding accepting and dealing with asylum seekers, each member state has its own national regulations, although whether they are able to handle the current situation is still questionable. 

This system, or lack thereof, had already come under criticism at the beginning of the century when the first immigration flows started to put pressure on some bordering states. Yet, the pressure has worsened since the 2014 migratory crisis that saw the Mediterranean sea and the balkan region at the center of huge movements of people into the European Union. 

In response to this unbearable situation, in 2020, the European Union hence proposed the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. According to the European Commission, this new pact will pave the way to a European approach to the critical situation of asylum seekers in particular and to migration in general within the EU’s borders

The pact is claimed to improve and fasten procedures, always maintaining a certain balance between the principles of fair sharing responsibility and solidarity. The new pact is supposed to solve most of the problems the EU and its member states have encountered so far, namely (re)building trust among the members and their capacity to manage the always more pressing migration situation. 

Since the start of the 2014 migratory inflow, it has been apparent that the current system was no longer sustainable, and a new revolutionary solution needs to be implemented. However, will the New Pact finally solve EU coordination and bureaucratic problems? 

This article will be divided into two parts. The first part, as seen in the remaining of this article, will briefly introduce the main points of the New Pact. The second part will then examine the New Pact from a critical perspective, taking into consideration several critical remarks from scholars and experts of European law.

Now, let’s dive into the four pillars of the New Migration and Asylum Pact.

The first pillar and the most celebrated one consists of more efficient and faster procedures. Specifically, the plan is to introduce more integrated border procedures which include a pre-entry screening for all people entering the EU without permission or from a rescue operation. Until now, the country to which they apply for asylum mostly takes care of the first part of all procedures to eventually resettle them in other EU countries. The screening will also consist of health and security checks, fingerprinting and registration into the Eurodac database. Only after all these steps will they be channelled to the respective procedure, whether this will be for obtaining asylum or other forms of international protection.

The second pillar, which was mostly missing during the past seven years, consists of fair sharing of responsibility and solidarity

This statement will require all member states to share the amount of the asylum seekers requests and take in an adequate number of asylum seekers/refugees depending on their capabilities in order to fulfill its humanitarian obligations. 

However, the document also states that “in respect of the different situations of Member States and of fluctuating migratory pressures, the Commission proposes a system of flexible contributions from the Member States.” 

This means that those states claiming to not have the adequate conditions to take in refugees and asylum seekers can choose not to by either offering to relocate those people from the country of first entry, bearing the task to return them in case their right to stay is denied, or by other forms of operational support.

The third pillar covers a relatively controversial topic for some member states, and for the EU as a whole, as it deals with the cooperation with non-EU countries. You might still remember the agreement the EU made with Turkey to keep migrants from entering the EU borders [2]. While this agreement was beneficial for the EU in the short term by avoiding more people to cross the EU borders, it backfired at the EU’s expense whenever Turkey finds it more appropriate. Indeed, whenever the EU criticizes Turkey’s actions in foreign or internal politics or threatens the Erdogan government to impose economic sanctions, the Turkish government response is always to open up its frontiers in case the EU keeps obstacolating its political agenda [3].

Nevertheless, better cooperation with non-EU countries is supposed to be mutually beneficial in addressing issues such as migrant smuggling, and developing legal pathways for the effective implementation of readmission agreements. 

The last pillar is set to boost a common EU system for returns that all countries will adopt. This is meant to make EU migration rules more credible without leaving the return framework to member states and their own national regulations. The new system is meant to develop a more legal framework, strengthening the role of the European Border and Coast Guard. A new EU Return Coordinator will be appointed and they will work with a network of national representatives. This new role will also ensure that the EU’s and national policies are aligned, which is a key point for the further integration of member states into a common approach to migration. 

These are the main points addressed by the plan. To people who are quite familiar with the EU and its migratory policies, these might not appear as a surprise since they tackle the main problems the EU has been facing on a daily basis since the beginning of the 21st century, exacerbated by the migratory crisis from 2014. Therefore, it might seem that the EU will finally enforce a smoother, more fair and equally shared solution to the migration problem. But is it really the case? 

In the second part of this article, we will explore the criticism of the New Pact, expressed by experts of European law and migration issues.

* This article briefly summarizes the content of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum
** To know more about the EU-Turkey deal: Your ticket for the: The EU-Turkey Deal: Explained
*** For more information: Erdogan threatens to open borders after European Parliament vote

Image: Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

The EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum: What Is It?
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