The EU's migration policy does not fit. The arrivals of people seeking refuge in Europe have returned to pre-pandemic levels and the situation on the Italian island of Lampedusa, overwhelmed by the entries of migrants in recent weeks, has again stirred tensions between the Twenty-seven in one of the most divisive issues of the community club and led governments to remember the migration crisis of 2015, which almost fulminates the Schengen area. Eight years and other crises have passed and the EU accelerates now, this last course of the legislature, to move forward with the expected migration pact, which proposes an unprecedented shielding of external borders and the increase of formulas for the expulsion of irregular migrants. A system criticized by human rights organizations, which at the same time faces the veto of the most belligerent Member States against the common policy. Meanwhile, many of those who arrive yearning for the security of the Union are caught between the crossed political vetoes, in a cracked system.
The covid-19 pandemic paralyzed life in many ways. It also reduced migrant arrivals. Not anymore: in August, more than 56,900 people in an irregular situation arrived in the EU, according to data from a confidential report by Frontex (the community border agency) with preliminary data and to which EL PAÍS has had access. In June, there were more than 30,000; That month, more than 83,000 people applied for asylum for the first time in an EU country (25% more than the same month last year) and did so mainly in Germany, Spain, France and Italy (together, 75% of applications), according to the latest Eurostat data.
"The narrative of European immigration policy in recent years has fed the illusion that zero immigration is not only desirable, but feasible. And it's neither," says Camino Mortera, head of the Brussels office of the Centre for European Reform. "It is a phenomenon impossible to stop; the question for the EU remains whether it wants to have a rational management of migratory flows and that sends a message of control – of who is in charge – both to voters and to countries of origin and transit, and to human trafficking mafias, "says the expert in community policy and justice and home affairs issues.
The Community Executive of Ursula von der Leyen, who in 2020 stressed that the current system did not work and presented her proposal for common migration regulation through an "effective and humane" pact, has devised a model based on two legs: the community agreement and a formula of agreements with countries of origin and transit to prevent arrivals to the Union. Today, the main initiative is what was signed with Tunisia, a country to which the European Commission has offered economic assistance – it aims to mobilise some 900 million euros of financing, although linked to the International Monetary Fund's approval of its own disbursement – to keep the country afloat. Also funding for various programs (including one of border control), in exchange for managing departures, and that has raised controversy over allegations of human rights violations by the Kais Said government, of inflamed rhetoric against migrants. Also, because of the way in which it was agreed, without the necessary prior approval of the Member States.
The circle thought by Von der Leyen, however, is far from closed. The first leg – consisting of five regulations – which the expert from the Centre for European Reform calls "the lame pact", has not been completed. It is necessary for the Twenty-seven to give the green light to the last chapter, a legislative instrument to respond to situations of "crisis and force majeure" and that, according to the latest drafts that EL PAÍS has seen, also includes the "instrumentalization" of migrants by a third State (such as the migratory pressure from Belarus on Poland and the Baltics) within those special situations that would allow a community member to establish a regime that circumvents the common policy.
This week, the European Parliament, which already closed its position on this last fringe in April, has also decided to block talks to convert into European legislation two of the four regulations that the Twenty-seven already agreed, and that are in the final phase in which representatives of the Council (the Member States), the European Parliament, and the Commission illuminate the final regulations (the so-called trilogues). It is a formula of pressure: the two blocked chapters – of control and processing of applications – are the most advanced and those that "most interest" the member states, says the socialist MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar, president of the Committee on Freedoms, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament.
Overall, the migration pact establishes the concept of mandatory solidarity so that all Member States share the management of the flows that now, fundamentally, receive the partners of the South – Italy, Greece, Spain – and regulates how migrants who are considered not entitled to asylum are received, processed, or expelled, and who – and for how long – has the responsibility for that legal framework that opens up when a newcomer raises a refugee claim.
The system, which Hungary and Poland claim that migration should be a national issue only, despite common borders, calls for mandatory relocation quotas for countries that are not under intense pressure from arrivals or for Member States that refuse to receive to pay 20,000 euros for each rejected asylum seeker for the common exchange. Also, new technological formulas of registration through biometric data and even underpins the concept of "entry fiction", which assumes that the person has not crossed the border until officials have decided to process their application. A modality, says expert Kelly Soderstrom, who has analyzed the issue for the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (Ecre), that "inhibits the mobility of asylum seekers, access to their rights and procedures, and increases the risk of refoulement."
It is somewhat similar to the concept of strength. But instead of walls, it outlines a system that makes it difficult and undesirable to enter. The Twenty-seven – who have once again engaged in political debates over who is responsible for receiving those who arrive while asylum seekers wait in overcrowded centres, often in very precarious conditions – are racing against the clock. The Spanish presidency of the Council of the EU is striving to find common ground to approve the crisis management regulation, which has also raised the alarms of specialized organizations and human rights defenders.
The crisis chapter, says Stephanie Pope, immigration and EU advisor at Oxfam, "provides scenarios for member states to repeal EU asylum law, which risks becoming widespread human rights violations against refugees, without any accountability, and less protection." Such a regulation could also lead to future discussions in the Council of countries that refuse to adhere to asylum and human rights standards because they consider that they are facing such scenarios.
Critical voices and reservations
Belgium, Luxembourg and Portugal have raised reservations about the effect of this new regulation on the rights of asylum seekers. Others, such as Hungary and Poland, reject any common regulation formula and may delay the approval of this chapter to avoid closing the entire pact, which is planned to work together.
MEP López Aguilar, who highlights the enormous division within the EU around the migration issue with cross-accusations between frontline countries and those facing secondary movements (to which migrants mostly go later, such as Germany or the Netherlands), speaks of "bleeding deficiencies" in the current legislation.
Meanwhile, the European Commission struggles to save the agreement with Tunisia, the other leg to stop arrivals. The memorandum of understanding signed with President Said on a visit to his palace has not only received enormous criticism and legal and humanitarian doubts. In addition, the influx along the route that leaves the Maghreb country, that of the central Mediterranean, one of the most dangerous and deadly, and which leads mainly to Italy, has not been reduced. So far this year, arrivals recorded in this way have increased by 115% compared to the same period last year, according to European data.
After the signing of the memorandum with Said, moreover, the figures have not decreased. The European money that is part of the agreement has not yet reached Tunisia and the president makes it clear. Von der Leyen, who visited Lampedusa last week alongside Italy's far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who has stood out for her tough positions on migration, has vowed to speed up the flow of funds to Tunisia. And on the Italian island he issued a warning: "As part of the international community we have an obligation. We have fulfilled it and we will comply with it, but we will decide who comes to the EU and under what circumstances, and not the smugglers and traffickers."
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni first visits Lampedusa with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on 17th September. FILIPPO ATTILI (EFE)
Brussels blames the mafias for the tragedies at sea and defends these pacts, which it already designs for other countries such as Egypt, according to community sources. In fact, an Oxfam report released this week shows that the EU devotes more of its budget funds to reducing immigration to Europe than to plans to curb poverty in countries of origin when it comes to money spent on migration programs, says Stephanie Pope. Its report has also identified that migration projects funded in Libya, Tunisia or Nigeria are at risk of violating international aid regulations.
MEP López Aguilar, very critical of the agreement with Tunisia and how it was illuminated, misses a common "coherent" strategy. Both for the values of the EU, as well as for international, European, maritime, humanitarian law. On the other hand, he criticizes the one who served as Minister of Justice of Spain in the second term of Zapatero (2004-2007) "you perceive an increasingly melonized Von der Leyen," he says in reference to the ultra positions of the Italian prime minister.
The bitter struggles between Member States over the migration issue continue unabated. And they will even remain when the migration pact is closed, foreseeably before the end of the legislature to prevent immigration from being an issue in the European elections in June, says the expert Mortera. The reality of a common migration policy, with countries that boycott it such as Poland or Hungary, as well as the viability of Schengen must also be rethought in the face of EU enlargement, says the expert, who believes that it could lead to a system of concentric circles or a "mini-Schengen", which does not include everyone.
Offering protection to refugees was one of the ways in which what is now the EU was born, with the lessons learned from the Second World War. Today's Union, despite the fact that it needs immigration and is committed to a regulated system that does not finish taking off or offer answers to the majority of those fleeing in search of asylum, no longer seems to travel that route.
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