After three years of intense negotiations, member states and the European Parliament reached a preliminary agreement on Wednesday to reform the European Union’s migration policy. The comprehensive deal, still requiring formal ratification, emerged after marathon talks that began on Monday and concluded early Wednesday morning, highlighting the urgency and complexity of the issues at stake.
The agreement, part of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, addresses a wide range of issues, including detention periods, racial profiling, unaccompanied minors, search-and-rescue operations, and border surveillance. Negotiations involved compromises on both sides, with the Council advocating for member states’ flexibility in handling migration and the Parliament pushing for stricter provisions to protect fundamental rights. The European Commission played a supportive role, offering guidance throughout the process.
The New Pact on Migration and Asylum, consisting of five interlinked pieces of legislation, aims to redefine rules for collectively receiving, managing, and relocating irregular migrants. Introduced in September 2020, the laws represent a departure from decades of crisis management and unilateral measures by member states during surges in asylum seekers.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasised the significance of the pact by asserting, “Migration is a European challenge that requires European solutions.” The New Pact aims to establish clear norms applicable to all member states, balancing responsibilities between frontline nations, such as Italy, Greece, and Spain, and the principle of solidarity upheld by other countries.
Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, hailed the preliminary deal as a “truly historic day” and the “most important legislative deal of this mandate.” Despite acknowledging imperfections, Metsola expressed optimism, stating that the current agreement is an improvement over previous frameworks.
The New Pact encompasses five laws, each addressing different aspects of migration management:
While Wednesday’s preliminary deal is a significant milestone, it must undergo formal approval by Parliament and the Council. The Parliament faces opposition from the Greens and the Left, while the Council may witness last-minute demands from member states. The final approval must be achieved before the European Parliament elections in early June 2024.
Despite concerns raised by humanitarian organisations about the potential normalisation of large-scale detention and challenges in safeguarding rights, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson assured that the deal includes safeguards and legal counselling throughout the process. The implementation of the New Pact, following final approval, will address challenges related to deportations and coordination with countries of origin.
The breakthrough comes as Frontex, the EU’s border and coast guard agency, reported over 355,000 irregular border-crossing incidents in the first 11 months of 2023, underscoring the urgency of the migration policy overhaul.