UPDATEAfter years of negotiations, the member states of the European Union have agreed on a new asylum and migration management system. There will be a mandatory, but flexible solidarity mechanism to better distribute asylum seekers across the EU, and a new procedure at the external borders to speed up the return of rejected asylum seekers. State Secretary Nicole de Moor (CD&V) speaks of “a very big hurdle” that has been taken.
The new agreements regulate, among other things, the assessment of migrants from safe countries at the European external border. Asylum seekers who have little chance of being allowed to stay can then be immediately detained and eventually sent back. ‘Arrival countries’ such as Italy and Greece are now assured of help from other Member States. They take over a number of asylum seekers, or buy off that obligation if they do not want to do it.
Agreement was hanging by a thread
The agreement was hanging by a thread, because Italy wanted more room for maneuver to send migrants back to safe third countries. During the vote on the final compromise proposal, which was still hotly debated in recent hours, the Italian minister finally gave his approval.
Hungary and Poland were the only ones to vote against, while Malta, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Lithuania abstained. The Czech Republic wants to withdraw from the solidarity mechanism because of the large number of Ukrainian refugees it already has on its territory.
The agreement was therefore not unanimously approved, but the necessary qualified majority was found to get the two regulations approved. The member states still have to conclude agreements with the European Parliament on the two legal texts. These negotiations may not be able to land until the Belgian EU presidency, in the first half of 2024. The Belgian representation at the EU has already responded enthusiastically to the “historic” agreement.
“Big hurdle taken”
For years, the EU countries failed to come up with a common asylum policy. Southern countries such as Italy and Greece in particular complain that the others let them do it alone. Western European member states only want to help if the ‘arrival countries’ receive asylum seekers themselves and do not let them travel on to their preferred country, as was once agreed. Eastern European countries such as Hungary refuse to accept migrants at all.
On Thursday, the figures, amounts and targets were mainly discussed. It has been agreed that 120,000 asylum seekers must be screened annually at the external borders and that at least 30,000 places must be provided for this purpose. Each year, 30,000 asylum seekers must also be spread across Europe on the basis of the solidarity principle, but just like the asylum capacity, this is an objective that will be updated every year, depending on the real migration flows. Countries that want to put money on the table instead of taking over migrants will have to pay 20,000 euros per person for this.
State Secretary Nicole de Moor (CD&V) speaks of “a very big hurdle” that has been taken.
Belgium would take over 957 migrants
The member states also agreed on a distribution key for the number of migrants they take in. For Belgium it is 3.19 percent. In the case of 30,000 relocations (but that figure is revised every year), the equivalent would be 957 people.
The fact that it has now been possible to find a compromise is “historic”, according to several of the 27 migration ministers who managed to conclude the agreement on Thursday. As soon as they also agree with the European Parliament, the new agreements can take effect.
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