Momentum is here to approve EU migration pact, EPP president says

Momentum is here to approve EU migration pact, EPP president says |

There is significant momentum to find a compromise on a new EU pact on migration and asylum, the president of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, told EURACTIV in an interview.

The New Pact on Migration and Asylum was launched in September 2020 by the European Commission, aiming to provide a bloc-wide framework to manage migration flows at the EU’s borders.

The pact is the main file for migration management, which EU institutions hope to approve before their mandate expires in spring 2024 with the next EU elections.

“We are close to finding a compromise with the Czech presidency on the pact. We cannot waste this momentum,” Weber said.

The pact, currently being negotiated in various EU institutions, has hit some hurdles mainly due to the relocation mechanism issue, or ‘voluntary solidarity mechanism’ that divided member states, particularly those in the east.

However, recent headlines in Italy regarding migrant rescue ships being prevented from disembarking have once again put a spotlight on the issue of migrant relocation, elevating it on the EU agenda.

This could provide fertile ground for a compromise to be found as it is a significant part of the agreement, Weber believes.

“We need the solidarity mechanism at the EU level for extraordinary situations”, he said, referring to massive arrivals of migrants at EU borders, which have once again spiked this year.

Trips via the Mediterranean Sea between North Africa and Europe are up 50% on last year, according to the Commission data. On Monday (21 November), the executive also proposed an action plan to deal with the situation.

Momentum is here to approve EU migration pact, EPP president says |

No Temporary Protection Directive for Mediterranean crisis, Commissioner says

The Temporary Protection Directive is unlikely to be activated for the current migration crisis in the central Mediterranean, EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Monday (21 November).

However, recent tensions between Italy and France over migration are a “reminder of an unsolved problem at the EU level”, Weber said but added: “We are close to finding a compromise on the pact”.

Weber referred to a confrontation between the Italian and French governments in early November when France suspended a relocation plan to take in 3,500 refugees currently in Italy after the new Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government refused to allow the disembarkation of the Ocean Viking NGO boat in Italy.

Momentum is here to approve EU migration pact, EPP president says |

NGO boats are not responsible for migrant relocation, experts tell Italy

Boats operated by NGOs in the Mediterranean Sea are not responsible for migrant relocation as they do not represent a national government, migration experts have told EURACTIV, contradicting the claim used by the Italian government.

Dividing cases

But Weber stressed that not all migrants coming from the central Mediterranean route can be welcomed.

“Figures from international and European bodies show that half of the asylum seekers’ requests are eventually accepted. Which means that half of them are illegal migrants and have to go back to the countries of origin,” the EPP president said.

According to Eurostat figures, roughly 648,000 applications for asylum in EU countries were made in 2021 by third-country nationals. The rate of approval for initial applications was 38%, while a further 33% of those who appealed a negative decision were later approved.

The highest recognition rates are those of Eritreans (81%), Belarusians (80%), Yemenis (77%) and Syrians (71%), the EU Agency for Asylum reported.

As of the end of 2021, around 767,000 asylum cases were still pending in the EU.

Agreements with partners as a solution

If there is a “common understanding” that a solution is needed, agreements between the EU and third parties are required, Weber said, highlighting as a good example the 2016 agreement with Turkey, whereby is to take necessary measures to stop irregular migrants from reaching Greek islands, in exchange for €6 billion in aid.

Weber suggested an EU agreement with the “legal side” of Libya could also be foreseen.

Libya has had an agreement with Italy since 2017, under which Italy provides support to the Libyan coast guard through funds, means and training, along with more of the same from the EU.

However, migrants returned to Libya face well-documented and numerous instances of assault, rape, trafficking, arbitrary detention and extortion, with many human rights groups condemning any such agreements.

According to the NGO Doctors Without Borders, the agreement “contributes directly and materially to the refoulement of men, women and children, but also supports detention centres – officially called ‘reception centres’ – where people are subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, are abused and killed”.

Weber mentioned that Egypt and Tunisia could be other options.

Enforcing Frontex

The EPP president said a strong EU border coastguard was much needed, along with Frontex, the bloc’s controversial border guard agency.

“I want to see the EU flag at our borders,” Weber said.

The head of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, resigned in April 2022 after the agency was investigated in an EU anti-fraud probe.

Several reports were published about its complicity in illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers alongside countless reports from migrants and human rights organisations spanning several years and multiple countries.

The European Parliament refused to approve the 2020 Frontex budget in October 2022 as a statement against the previous administration of the agency.

EU institutions are now moving towards empowering the new Frontex not only on Schengen borders but in other non-EU countries, such as in the Western Balkans.

Frontex guards have already been spotted in airports in Albania over the last 12 months.

In addition, EU members Austria and Italy have recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Serbia about pushing back illegal migrants away from the external borders of the EU.

Momentum is here to approve EU migration pact, EPP president says |

Council to negotiate increasing EU border agency's presence in Western Balkans

The European Council announced on Friday (18 November) that it has green-lit negotiations on increasing the presence of Frontex, the EU border agency, in Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.

[Edited by Alice Taylor/Zoran Radosavljevic]


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