The European Parliament approves a wide-ranging reform of the European Union’s migration and asylum policy

April 17, 2024

The new reform is presented as early as 2020. September. – It aims to integrate all areas of migration management into a coherent framework. The reform is based on the principle of binding solidarity, which encourages all countries, regardless of size or geographical location, to help the Southern European countries to cope with the large migration flows. This new pact establishes common rules for the collective management of reception and resettlement of asylum seekers. This has been a politically sensitive issue since 2015-2016, when the number of migrants arriving in the EU increased significantly and it has become increasingly difficult to reach a common agreement at EU level.

The European Commission’s proposal is extremely ambitious, running to hundreds of pages and covering a wide range of complex issues such as fundamental rights, unaccompanied minors, data privacy, financial support, length of detention and national security. The European Parliament and the Member States in the Council have spent years debating and revising the new Pact, detailing and interpreting the complex content of the legislation. The debate in the Council was particularly intense, with countries holding opposing views based on geography, economic situation and ideological views. But on 10 April. The European Parliament approves the final version of the legislation, which consists of 5 laws, albeit by a small majority. However, the question of whether the reform will live up to the high expectations remains to be answered: it will take around two years before the law comes into full force.

The new reform is a highly topical step, reflecting the challenges facing the European Union in recent years. However, as the process of discussing this reform shows, it raises a number of very complex issues that go beyond migration management to include fundamental human rights. The debate is dominated by a tense struggle between different positions. Looking at the new policy, it is important to emphasise the search for a balanced solution between migration control and the protection of human rights. This process should be carried out with a view to ensuring a fair and effective migration policy that protects both the security of the Member States of the European Union and the rights and dignity of migrants.

“Commenting on the events, Eve Geddie, head of Amnesty International, said that this could significantly weaken the right to asylum. NGOs saw this reform as an opportunity to introduce a more human-centred migration policy, but instead it has become a set of policies that make it even more difficult for migrants to access asylum. The same measures that are praised in the European Parliament are distrusted by NGOs: the solidarity mechanism allows states to refuse asylum, while the selection of asylum seekers, where people are placed in detention centres at EU borders for seven days, creates a legal basis for the illusion of exclusion from national territory. Lithuania’s rejectionist policy is cited as an example of the kind of policies that violate migrants’ rights that can be adopted by countries under the new Asylum and Migration Pact.

Another criticism has been that the EU discourse on migration is dominated by a security and border control narrative, which is often divorced from policies at local level. The absence of local voices in the European Union distorts the debate and takes a purely militaristic approach to national security, completely ignoring cultural, diplomatic and economic aspects. Labour shortages and the demographic ageing of the continent, which are significant challenges for Europe that require a long-term solution, are practically never part of the debate.

The EU’s desire to conclude more bilateral agreements with third countries such as Tunisia and Libya is also criticised. These agreements aim to send asylum seekers back to Europe in return for a lump sum, or to keep them out altogether. Such bilateral agreements are viewed negatively because of their dealings with the leaders of non-democratic regimes, who may use these funds to commit crimes against humanity or use control of migration flows as a bargaining chip for more investment from Europe.

While the European Union’s reform aims to adopt a more humane policy, the reality may be different. This situation could threaten not only the rights of migrants, but also the values and international solidarity of the European Union itself.

Lithuania has calculated exactly what the new Asylum and Migration Management Regulation Lithuania’s options are to “either accept 158 migrants or pay €3.16 million annually (around €20,000 per person per year or €1,667 per month). Or we could offer our EU allies other necessary assistance.”

The new migration reform is an important step towards a coherent and coordinated migration policy in Europe, but the European Commission’s ambitious proposal shows that the reform process still raises difficult questions. Often, the dominant security narrative can enable the continuation of policies harmful to asylum seekers. It is important that reforms are balanced, respectful of human rights and secure for all. This would not only be a step forward in European migration policy, but would also reflect the EU’s shared commitment to the principles of human rights and dignity.

5 pieces of legislation included in the new migration reform:

  1. The Asylum Selector Regulation foresees a pre-entry procedure that would allow for a quick profile check and the collection of basic information such as nationality, age, fingerprints and facial image. Health and safety checks will also be carried out.
  1. The amended Eurodac Regulation updates: the large-scale database that will store the biometric data collected during screening. The database will move from counting applications to counting applicants and will prevent multiple applications from being submitted by the same person. The minimum age for fingerprinting will be lowered from 14 to 6 years.
  1. The amended Asylum Procedures Regulation sets out two possible procedures for applying for asylum: the traditional asylum procedure, which has a longer duration, and the accelerated border procedure, which is expected to take no longer than 12 weeks. The border procedure will apply to migrants who pose a risk to national security, provide misleading information or come from countries whose asylum applications are rarely granted, such as Morocco, Pakistan and India. These migrants will not be allowed to enter the country, but will be held in premises at the border, creating a legal fiction of non-admission.
  1. The Asylum and Migration Management Regulation establishes a system of “compulsory solidarity” which will offer Member States three options for managing migration flows: (1) relocate a certain number of asylum seekers, (2) pay €20,000 per asylum seeker refused relocation, or (3) finance operational support for migration control. Brussels is aiming for 30 000 resettlements a year, but insists that the system will not force any country to take in refugees if it contributes through either of the other two options.
  1. Krizių reglamente numatytos išimtinės taisyklės, kurios bus taikomos, kai ES prieglobsčio sistemai kils grėsmė dėl staigaus ir masinio pabėgėlių atvykimo, kaip buvo 2015-2016 m., arba dėl force majeure aplinkybių, kaip COVID-19 pandemija. Tokiomis aplinkybėmis nacionalinėms valdžios institucijoms bus leista taikyti griežtesnes priemones, įskaitant ilgesnius registracijos ir sulaikymo laikotarpius, o Komisija bus įgaliota prašyti papildomų “solidarumo” priemonių. 

    Photo: Unsplash I Antoine Schibler