The New Pact on Migration and Asylum was proposed by the Commission in September 2020. Two years from that date, where do we stand with European migration policy? This article takes stock of the advancements made by the European Institutions in negotiating a reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) through the New Pact on Migration and Asylum.
Great expectations have been placed on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum to overcome the failure of the CEAS in 2015. European policy on migration and asylum has long been an object of debate due to the lack of real cohesion between the Member States on how the issue of migration should be addressed. This lack of cohesion ended up in the failure of the European Union to establish a truly common policy able to tackle the humanitarian crisis, such as the one that occurred between 2015 and 2016. The 2015 migration management crisis dramatically turned the spotlight on the inefficiency of the legal framework on migration and asylum applicable at that time.
The legislative framework at the EU level not only opened rifts between European countries, highlighting the lack of solidarity between the Members States, but most importantly did not achieve one of its primary goals, which was to ensure the respect of human rights and protect those people trying to escape persecution or serious harm in their country of origin. Europe hosted over 1 million Syrian asylum-seekers and refugees in 2015. Although this represents only about 0.2 % of the overall population, the number was far larger than in previous years (in 2014 the number was around 200.000).
The crisis had considerable short and long-term effects on the politics of both the affected EU countries and the EU as a whole. Both institutions and civil society acknowledged the need for an urgent reform of the CEAS, to ensure Europe’s ability to effectively and successfully respond when confronted with crisis such as the 2015-2016 one. In May 2015 the Commission proposed the European Agenda on Migration, a strategy laying the foundation of a renewed European policy on migration and asylum. The Eu Agenda on Migration had the purpose to address both short and long-term challenges and it was the first real step towards a more coherent European approach to migration. However, the negotiations could not be concluded by the end of the legislative period due to the persisting colliding interests of member states mainly regarding the issue of relocation.
The New Pact on Migration and Asylum
The New Pact on Migration and Asylum is a policy document presented by the Commission in September 2020 as a proposal that sets out the European Agenda on Migration for the years to come. The new pact includes four recommendations and five legislative proposals. The proposal package brings together policies in the area of migration, asylum, integration, and border management.
The Pact encompasses the following new legislative files:
- A new Asylum and Migration Management Regulation;
- A new Screening Regulation;
- A new Crisis and Force Majeure Regulation;
- An amended proposal revising the Asylum Procedures Regulation;
- An amended proposal revising the Eurodac Regulation.
And also includes non-legislative proposals:
- a new recommendation on Migration Preparedness and Crisis Blueprint;
- a new recommendation on Resettlement and Complementary pathways;
- a new recommendation on Search and Rescue Operations by Private Vessels;
- a new guidance on the Facilitators Directive
In the first quarter of 2021, the Economic and Social Committee and the European Committee of the Regions adopted their opinion on the Asylum and Migration Pact. Following the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting on 10 June 2022, on 22 June, shortly before the end of the French Presidency, the member states finally agreed on a mini-package and a joint negotiating mandate for the screening and Eurodac fingerprinting regulations. A declaration on a temporary solidarity mechanism was also signed by 18 Member States.
Following the steps taken by the Council, in September 2022 the European Parliament and the rotating Presidencies of the Council finally agreed on a joint roadmap on the implementation of a timeline for the negotiations. They set the goal to have them enter into force by April 2024 at the latest. According to the timetable set out by the two bodies, negotiations should start in Autumn 2022. The effective implementation of the timetable agreed will be subject to follow-up meetings between the Members of the Asylum Contact Group and rotating Council Presidencies.
The increasing political insecurity makes the reform urgent
Between 2021 and 2022 two major events contributed to further highlighting the urgency of the adoption of the New Pact. Since August 2021, following the withdrawal of the coalition forces from Afghanistan and the takeover of the country by the Taliban forces, many Afghan have fled their country to seek protection. Although the majority of people fleeing Afghanistan were hosted by neighbouring countries (Iran and Pakistan), the number of Afghan refugees who seek to reach Europe was expected to increase. The irregular border crossing along the Western Balkan Route increased by 300% in the first eight months of 2022 compared to data from the previous year (10 times more if we consider data from 2019).
The second event causing major repercussions for migration, asylum and border management is referred to Russia’s unprovoked aggression of Ukraine, which caused the largest forced displacement of people in Europe since the Second World War. The recent escalation of the war is expected to further increase the number of arrivals. In June the number of Ukrainians who entered Europe was around 5.3 million. (7 million if we include also non-Ukrainian citizens). A number that is expected to increase following the recent escalation of the conflict.
Europe has shown unprecedented solidarity and unity in facing the Ukrainian refugee crisis, showing that a coherent and effective approach is possible and indeed necessary to face the increasingly volatile geopolitical scenario. For the first time ever the Temporary Protection (an instrument envisaged by directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001) was activated and a clear legal status and protection was granted to Ukrainian citizens entering the Eu. Eu funds were unlocked to help frontline countries dealing with the costs of sheltering people fleeing from Ukraine.
Against the backdrop of these developments, the Eu reaffirmed the urgency of reforming the current policies by adopting the New Pact on Asylum and Migration. The Report on Migration and Asylum was released by the commission on 6th October 2022. It presents the key developments and identifies the key challenges ahead, highlighting the need to continue on the path of commitment and responsibility toward a systematic European approach to migration. Most of what is going to happen depends on the MS’s willingness to leave behind the ‘national‘ approach in favour of a broader perspective, supporting long-term solutions that safeguard fundamental rights.