EU bemoans 'painfully slow' progress on migration overhaul

Proposals to reform Europe's management of asylum seekers are bogged down in talks

Progress on an EU migration overhaul has been “painfully slow” despite fears of refugee crises in Belarus and Afghanistan, the bloc’s leaders have said.

Brussels has been pushing for years to reform the way that migrants are managed and shared out within the EU.

But one year on from the launch of its latest initiative, the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, stalemate remains on several crucial issues.

Europe’s sea gateways such as Italy, Greece and Spain want to force other countries to take in a fair share of asylum seekers.

The EU’s proposals stop short of this, instead allowing other members to pitch in by providing operational support or helping with deportations.

EU countries and MEPs need to “deepen the political discussions” to make progress on this, said the bloc’s executive arm, the European Commission.

Margaritis Schinas, the EU’s Commissioner for Protecting the European Way of Life, said events in Belarus and Afghanistan called for faster progress.

Belarus is accused of shepherding migrants to the EU’s eastern border in a pressure campaign against Brussels. Many migrants have been left in limbo.

Meanwhile, the fallout from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has led to fears of more than 500,000 people fleeing the country.

There is pressure on other fronts, with arrivals to Spain’s Canary Islands from countries such as Algeria and Morocco more than doubling this year.

“Last week marked one year since we put our proposals on the table for a New Pact on Migration and Asylum,” Mr Schinas said.

“Whilst progress on their adoption has been painfully slow, at the same time, migratory challenges have continued to arise in forms new and old.

“If we have learnt anything in recent years, it should be that flying solo on these issues is not an option. Now is the time to come together around solutions.”

EU negotiators have reached agreement on some issues, including a Blue Card visa for highly-skilled workers and a new EU asylum agency.

Agreement on these “shows that it is possible to move forward and find compromises on reforms in the area of migration and asylum”, the Commission said.

But while technical discussions have taken place on other issues, political agreement on important issues “is still distant”, it said.

As well as the asylum overhaul, these include a revamped deportation process, which Brussels says is necessary to make its migration policy more credible.

One specific proposal is to expand the use of a fingerprint database to include the names, facial images and identity documents of migrants.

Human rights groups fear the database could be used for surveillance but EU leaders say the proposal is “well advanced”.

The Commission added another proposal to the mix on Wednesday by calling for new measures to tackle migrant smuggling.

Europol believes that more than 90 per cent of illegal migrants who reach the EU are trafficked by smugglers for at least part of their journey.

Brussels called for what it described as “dedicated and tailor-made” partnerships with non-EU countries that lie on migration routes to Europe.

It said EU countries needed to clamp down on organised crime with more prosecutions and convictions of gang leaders.

Updated: September 30th 2021, 12:16 PM