EU passes radical 'reforms' on migration and asylum laws
EU interior ministers reach an agreement on Thursday about what they called a "historical" new approach to what one lawmaker characterized as a frequently "toxic topic".
The EU has reportedly approved changes to its legislation governing immigration and asylum, including fines of €20,000 (£17,200) per person for members that refuse to accept migrants.
Interior ministers reached an agreement on Thursday about what they called a "historical" new approach to what one lawmaker characterized as a frequently "toxic topic" after almost 12 hours of difficult negotiations in Luxembourg and years of bickering.
Maria Malmer Stenergard, who was part of the Swedish lead negotiating team, said, “I didn’t really believe I would be sitting here saying this … but we have adopted general approaches on the asylum and migration management regulation and asylum procedure regulation.”
As part of a last-minute compromise, it was decided that member states, not the EU as a whole, would decide which nation is "safe" for migrants who have been sent away because they are ineligible for asylum.
The "connection" that must be demonstrated between a country and the nation to which a migrant is sent can be determined by the member state, according to diplomats.
This seems to offer each nation some leeway in deciding whether to allow the repatriation of migrants to third countries that not all EU members may believe are "safe havens".
According to one source, the agreement was reached after Italy, and a number of other nations urged that the so-called "connection" requirement, which calls for substantial ties with a third country, such as a lengthy work history, be softened.
If the "connection" criteria are to be interpreted loosely, a member state that wishes to send a migrant back to a third country may just need to show that the applicant has stayed in the nation. This would allow Italy, for instance, to send migrants to "a transition country" like Tunisia.
Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Piantedosi, said, “Today is a day where something is beginning. We are not arriving; we are setting off.”
The news that Mark Rutte, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will accompany Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on a trip to Tunisia in the coming days highlights the political importance of Italy, which is at the center of the migration crisis.
Meloni aims to work with the administration to accept migrants after being elected last year on a platform of strong rhetoric against migrants.
A new system with a practical quota on how many people frontline states must process before requesting assistance will also be implemented, enabling the transfer of migrants around the EU.
Charges, which Poland referred to as "fines", for those nations that refuse to accept a part of relocating refugees were reduced from the initial proposal of €22,000 at the beginning of Thursday's discussions to €20,000 per migrant.
Hungary and Poland said they would not support the agreement, while Bulgaria, Lithuania, Malta, and Slovakia withdrew their votes.
Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Portugal announced that they will keep pushing for modifications to the whole law that would exempt children and unaccompanied minors from the new regulations.
Nancy Faeser, Germany’s home minister, said, “This was not an easy decision for all of us around the table, but it was historic.”
The Austrians and Dutch governments both lauded it as "a step forward" and an "important step," respectively, but asked their partners to continue their efforts to put an end to the tragedy in the Mediterranean. Last year, more than 2,000 individuals died while trying to cross by suffocating or drowning.
Hungary, on its part, slammed the agreement as "unacceptable".
"Brussels is abusing its power. They want to relocate migrants to Hungary with force. This is unacceptable, they want to forcefully turn Hungary into a migrant country," Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban wrote on Facebook.
The EU is "eliminating (member states') say in who resides in their territories," Hungary's deputy interior minister Bence Retvari told the Hungarian state news agency MTI Friday.
Retvari said that the new distribution mechanism would "basically allow illegal migrants or the human traffickers who brought them to Europe to decide themselves who will live in Europe."
Some of the proposals had been distributed "minutes, at most half an hour" ahead of the votes on Thursday, said Retvari.
"Pro-migration governments" had "pressured" other member states to approve the proposals, he said.