LUXEMBOURG: EU nations on Thursday reached agreement on a long-stalled revision of the bloc’s rules to share the hosting of asylum seekers and migrants more equitably.
Sweden, which holds the bloc’s rotating presidency, announced the breakthrough after a fraught day of negotiations between EU interior ministers in Luxembourg.
The deal — which needed approval from a majority of countries representing at least 65 percent of the bloc’s population — comes after years of wrangling over asylum policy.
European interior affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson hailed a “hugely significant step” for the EU on migration.
“These are not easy decisions for everyone around the table, but they are historic decisions,” said German interior minister Nancy Faeser.
The proposal tabled at the meeting called for compulsory help between EU countries, but with an option of doing that in one of two ways.
The priority is for EU countries to share the hosting of asylum-seekers, taking in many that arrive in nations on the bloc’s outer rim, mainly Greece and Italy.
The agreement said nations that refuse would instead be required to pay a sum of 20,000 euros ($21,000) per person into a fund managed by Brussels.
Poland and Hungary voted against the proposals, while Bulgaria, Malta, Lithuania and Slovakia abstained.
The preliminary agreement opens the way for negotiations with the European Parliament on legislation that could be adopted before European elections in June next year.
Parliament president Roberta Metsola said lawmakers were “ready to start negotiations immediately to reach a deal.”
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi said he was happy that “all my proposals” were accepted.
“Italy will not be the reception center of migrants on behalf of Europe,” he said.
The difficult reform has jumped up the bloc’s agenda as the number of asylum seekers rises, after a pause caused by travel curbs during the Covid pandemic.
The European Commission — haunted by the migrant crisis of 2015 — put forward its suggestion for a new migration and asylum pact in 2020 based on a quota system.
But that plan quickly hit the buffers after refusals from Hungary, Poland and other countries that objected to any requirement to take them in.
Sweden, which holds the rotating EU presidency until the end of this month, presented two compromise texts: one that called for the hosting-or-cash approach by all member states, and the other on asylum procedures on the EU’s external borders.
That second text obliges member states to put in place fast-track procedures at the borders for arrivals from countries deemed as safe in order to facilitate their return.
“These files constitute the two main pillars of the reform of the EU asylum system and is key to a good balance between responsibility and solidarity,” the Swedish presidency tweeted.
Belgian Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor said migrants who statistically had less chance of getting refugee status included citizens from “Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Senegal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.”
But Oxfam, a charity that aids refugees, has criticized the direction of the talks as EU countries take harsher steps to stem asylum seekers.
It argued prior to the final negotiations that the proposals “will not fix the chronic deficiencies in the EU asylum system.”
“Instead, they signal the EU’s desire to barricade Europe from asylum seekers,” Oxfam said.