Few policy topics are as charged and important to politicians and public opinion as migration.
This morning, the UK government quietly admitted that Rwanda would be paid an additional £150 million under the new treaty agreed this week to salvage its cash for asylum seekers’ deal. This will take the scheme’s cost to £290 million without a single asylum seeker having been flown to the East African state.
Legal and political opposition makes it highly unlikely that the scheme will ever be operational.
Is this good policy-making? Almost certainly not.
But if the desperation – and chaotic incompetence – is not quite as acute in Brussels and European capitals as in Rishi Sunak’s government, EU leaders know that public opinion across the bloc is exercised by what they perceive to be high and, critically, uncontrolled immigration.
EU lawmakers remain deadlocked on plans to reform the bloc’s migration and asylum laws, with negotiations now set to continue until Christmas week.
Diplomatic sources told Euractiv that this week’s trilogues produced no real breakthroughs.
That shifts the spotlight to trilogues on 18 and 19 December. The Spanish government, which holds the six-month rotating EU Council presidency, has vowed to get a political agreement on the files before the end of the year.
All presidencies make such promises, but the political stakes are particularly high in this case. There is a sense of desperation among European politicians, if not to actually do something, then to at least be seen as doing something.
Failure would mark ten years of inertia.
Consequently, the interminable negotiations on the bloc’s migration regime are close to conclusion. We will likely get a deal on the handful of laws that aim to reform the EU’s migration and asylum rules.
But don’t expect radical changes that will address the root causes of migration, significantly reduce the number of arrivals at EU borders, or how migrants and asylum seekers are treated and integrated into society.
This is, for the most part, the lowest common denominator lawmaking.
Some points appear to be set in stone. The new Donald Tusk-led government in Poland has removed the main obstacle to new arrangements on burden-sharing quotas and financial compensation from those who refuse to take their quota.
Meanwhile, the principle of outsourcing border control by providing funding to third countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt will also be enshrined in the new regime.
What remains are more technical but no less divisive issues.
There are still major disagreements on the screening regulation, a law regulating registration procedures of first arrivals at EU borders. MEPs and ministers are divided on provisions regarding the protection of human rights during the screening process.
NGOs have warned that the proposal offered by the Spanish government would see children as young as six subjected to immigration detention and accelerated border procedures.
MEPs, for their part, insist that there must be safeguards against racial profiling and guarantees for minors in the screening process, with all unaccompanied minors entitled to have a representative.
For the moment, neither side is prepared to budge, but they will have to. With the European elections now less than six months away, they cannot afford to come up empty again.
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EU finance ministers picked on Friday Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Nadia Calviño to become the next head of the European Investment Bank in a boost for Spain’s clout within the bloc.
Following in the footsteps of the European Parliament last month, EU member states in the Council have also included nuclear energy alongside renewables among the technologies promoted by the EU’s Net-Zero Industry Act (NZIA).
Fossil fuel boilers will need to be completely phased out by 2040 and subsidies cut from 2025 as part of a political agreement reached by EU legislators on Thursday evening (7 December) to revamp the bloc’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).
As the European Commission prepares to update its bioeconomy strategy, Eastern European countries call for more support in developing bio-refineries on their territory and closing the gap with Western Europe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday told soldiers who had fought in the Ukraine war that he would run for president again in the 2024 election, a move that will allow the former KGB spy to stay in power until at least 2030.
Finally, for more policy news, check out this week’s Tech Brief, the Economy Brief, and the Agrifood Brief.
Looking out for…
- COP28 ongoing until 12 December.
- Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels Sunday-Monday.
- Foreign Affairs Council on Monday.
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]