Migration: European countries under pressure to increase solidarity or pay up

Home affairs ministers meet in Luxembourg to discuss the highly sensitive EU migration pact

Migrants gather near a fence at a temporary detention centre in Kazitiskis, Lithuania, in August 2021. Reuters
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Hopes are high among EU officials that the bloc’s 27 home affairs ministers will strike a deal on Thursday that would strengthen solidarity mechanisms by expediting asylum procedures and possibly forcing countries that refuse to accept migrants to financially compensate others.

Ministers meeting in Luxembourg will discuss the highly sensitive EU migration pact, which has been under negotiation for years amid bitter disputes between Mediterranean countries that receive the highest number of migrants and others, including Hungary and Poland, that have refused to share the burden – especially when the migrants are coming from Muslim-majority countries.

The EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson struck an optimistic note on arrival, saying it was an “extremely important day” to resolve what has “been a marathon” issue for Europe.

“Of this marathon, we have maybe 100 meters left. So, we are so close to actually find an agreement today,” Ms Johansson said. “I expect the member states to be able to do the final extra meters to reach the agreement.”

“There is a big chance that we can have a very important breakthrough,” she said.

Her optimism echoed by Spain's home affairs minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gomez, who said that he was "sure" that an greement would be reached.

Sweden's minister of migration Maria Malmer Stenergard also said that "there is no acceptable reason to not walk the last mile, and it will never be easier."

Yet Germany's Interior Minister Nancy Faeser cautioned that "the compromise on the table is very difficult for Germany."

"I feel there is a common understanding which could lead to an agreement, but not at any price," she told reporters.

France's interior minister Gerald Darmanin said that his country was ready to compromise but there was "still work to do this morning."

There will be no need for a unanimous vote as decisions will be made by qualified majority but the position of Italy, which receives a large number of migrants via the Mediterranean Sea, will be crucial. A vote without Italy “is possible but not desirable”, said an EU diplomat.

The proposal, which has been hammered out by the EU council’s Swedish presidency, suggests “an obligatory solidarity mechanism” for the first time, said a second EU diplomat.

The exact conditions under which this mandatory financial compensation would be made are under discussion. Ms Malmer Stenergard said that the figure currently under discussion was €20,000 per asylum seeker.

There are further discussions about sending migrants who fail the asylum process back to so-called safe countries, but those countries should have what diplomats have described as a “connection criteria” with the person’s home country. These criteria remains to be defined.

Border procedures would additionally be modified to expedite returns, with local government authorities setting up a separate process for asylum seekers from countries with an acceptance rate that is lower than 20 per cent. These people would go through a faster process that would also aim to accelerate their return to their home country.

Some countries including Germany have reportedly been pushing for families with children to be exempted from this expedited process. It remains unclear if a significant number of countries share that point of view.

Ms Johansson earlier this week said that it was “not acceptable” that people from countries such as Albania, Pakistan or Turkey be treated in the same way as people fleeing active war zones such as Afghanistan, Syria and Sudan.

Charity Oxfam has criticised the plan, saying it would perpetuate the EU's failed approach, which had produced overcrowded and inadequate migration camps on the edges of Europe.

“These 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,” it said.

Updated: June 08, 2023, 9:02 AM