Delay for EU migration dossier: further steps after the summer break

Legal - August 23, 2023

The hot topic of migration does not stop being at the center of the European political agenda even during the summer. And indeed, it experiences new steps. 

EU migration reform is now one of the priorities of the European Union. This priority has become increasingly pressing, especially as a result of the growth in migration flows that have increasingly affected Europe’s shores over the years. The migration crisis began in 2015, when, according to data collected by Frontex, which is the EU’s external border management agency, there were 1.83 million recorded illegal crossings. This situation has not faded over the past few years, but rather has become increasingly pressing, becoming one of the pillars that needs to be addressed as a priority.

Over the past year, 2023, the migrant issue has come up several times and in new ways in the EU, given the exacerbation of the situation especially in light of the events of recent months. In the course of the EU Council meetings, therefore, migration has received new attention from the member states. It is now more important than ever that there be a comprehensive approach to migration, so that this issue can be addressed in the most appropriate way possible, finally arriving at a shared and universal solution. 

During the extraordinary Council meeting held last 9th and 10th February 2023 a number of measures were adopted on the subject of migrants. In particular, the need to strengthen external action, effectively control external borders, and act more pointedly on the internal dimension was put on paper.

In addition to this, it was also reiterated how important it is to strengthen cooperation with countries of origin and transit, which appears to be essential to act directly on the root causes of migration flows.

Finally, European leaders on that occasion called on the Council and the European Parliament to continue their work regarding the Pact on Migration and Asylum, the Schengen Borders Code and the Return Directive. 

Following the February 2023 meeting, the European Council took a further step forward last 8th June 2023. On that date, in fact, the modernization of European asylum and migration legislation was agreed upon. The Council of European interior ministers, in fact, approved new rules on the migrant issue. Specifically, under the new pact, it is stipulated that all states will have to participate in the redistribution of migrants, that the examination of asylum applications will have to take place under a “border procedure,” which is an accelerated and summary procedure that must be concluded within 12 weeks of the submission of the application; this procedure will apply to all those who cross the border illegally or when the asylum seeker comes from “a third country deemed safe.”

In addition, the country responsible for the asylum claim remains the country of first entry into Europe, and the period during which a state has responsibility for migrants arriving on its territory is lengthened from twelve to twenty-four months. Finally, in the area of refoulements and returns, states will have autonomy to define a country of departure or transit as “safe,” and thus will be able to implement refoulements even to a country of transit for migrants (and not only to the country of origin).

Another crucial step in this long process of migration policy reform was on 29th and 30th June 2023. On those days, the EU Council was held, which, in addition to discussing issues such as the war in Ukraine, the European economy, and the China dossier, once again put special attention precisely on the challenge of migration flows. 

In particular, in its conclusions, the European Council reiterated the strategic discussion on the EU’s relations it had with its partners in the Southern. In this context, it welcomed the work done on a mutually beneficial comprehensive partnership package with Tunisia, based on the pillars of economic development, investment and trade, transition to green energy, migration and people-to-people contacts, and supports the resumption of political dialogue in the context of the EU-Tunisia Association Agreement. Finally, stressed the importance of strengthening and developing strategic partnerships between the EU and partners in the region.

In fact, in recent months the European Union has managed to create a strategic partnership with Tunisia, now one of the countries from which a large number of migrants arrive and which is crucial for the stability of the entire African continent. And, consequently, also for the entire Mediterranean and therefore for Europe.

However, the EU immigration agreement is unfortunately still far from being finalized before the end of this summer. In fact, as of today, EU countries have yet to finalize the text of the entire agreement before the European Parliament can give the green light.

At the end of July 2023, the EU had met to complete work on the overall package, with the aim of reshaping the approach by which it receives and transfers migrants to the territory of all its member states. But unfortunately, there have been delays on the so-called “crisis regulation,” which outlines measures to increase pressure on countries bordering the EU that face spikes in asylum seekers.

On this issue, there is a clash between some countries, especially those in southern Europe, who want to be relieved of some of the burden should arrival numbers rise considerably, and other countries, especially those in the north who are not totally in agreement from lifting some of the rules.

So, the big challenge remains to satisfy some countries that bring forward some heavy demands on the migration issue.

The crux of the matter, then, concerns the historical between the southern frontline states and northern countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, where asylum seekers often move without permission after arrival. 

EU states clashed over a proposal to suspend countries’ right to return migrants to their country of arrival if the first country reached “crisis” conditions.

Even the Nordic states were unhappy with a “crisis” exemption that allowed frontline countries to suspend strict border controls on migrants.

Remaining hopes of reaching an agreement finally collapsed when Germany indicated that it would not support the text. Berlin opposed suspending migrant returns in frontline states and demanded that minors and their families be exempted from border controls, according to a third EU diplomat familiar with the proceedings.

In addition, eastern countries also helped kill the deal and are expected to hold the line when talks resume in September.

Supporters of the migration intransigent line of the so-called Visegrád Four – Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic – have joined forces against the crisis regulation.

All this has led to a stalemate and a decision to return to the issue after the summer vacation break. Even, one of the speculations is that the talks could come to a meeting of the ministers of internal affairs at the end of September.

The hope was to be able to reach agreement on the crisis regulation before the end of the summer and then negotiate a final agreement with the European Parliament. But the European Parliament has indicated that it will not approve any more files under negotiation until the EU countries reach agreement on the entire package.The demand from the states above mentioned is clear, and is to arrive at stronger language and measures to support countries facing an engineered influx of migrants destined to destabilize the EU, similar to what Belarus did to Poland in 2021. For now, everything is on standby. Any decision has been postponed until September. Who knows whether this time the test will be passed by all and whether we can finally move forward concretely to address the migration emergency in a united and common way.