Political motivations have pushed the European institutions across the board, after years of inconclusiveness. The approaching European elections, the electoral campaigns that will use the issue of asylum and immigration as an instrument of confrontation between the parties, the concern for the political balance that will emerge from the electoral outcome, have pushed everyone, Council, Commission and Parliament, to close the new asylum and immigration pact in time to be able to proceed to final approval by the Council and Parliament and to the definition of the regulatory regulations. Moreover, a pact with persuasive declarations of intent and with stricter rules than the current ones could even partly mitigate the propaganda and attacks of the xenophobic right-wingers during the election campaign.
The provisional agreement reached yesterday, 20 December, between the Council, the Parliament and the Commission can therefore, depending on one’s point of view, either be considered a political success or just a politically shrewd but deficient step in a process that still has a long way to go to be linear and consistent with the values and ambitions of the Union.
The triumphant institutional point of view. The President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola says she is ‘very proud that with the Pact on Migration and Asylum we have produced and provided solutions’. For European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson it is “an historic moment”. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that “this Pact on Migration and Asylum will ensure an effective European response to this European challenge”. It means that Europeans will decide who will come to the EU and who will be allowed to stay, not traffickers. It means protecting those in need’. For Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, ‘the pact is the result of long negotiations in which Italy has always played a leading role in order to affirm a balanced solution that would no longer make EU border countries, which are particularly exposed to migratory pressure, feel alone’. In addition to the usual dose of hypocrisy on the ‘protection of those in need’ and the ‘fight against traffickers of human beings’, the emphasis on the ‘historic European turning point’ seems really exaggerated. What is historic is only that the pact comes 33 years after the 1990 Dublin Treaty.
One could also look at it this way: in the face of an inconclusive Council and Parliament, which have failed to make progress in the vision of a forward-looking common European immigration and asylum policy, an agreement – even if limited, debatable and inconsistent – is undoubtedly better than a continuous paralysing disagreement.
A different point of view is that of civil society organisations. Some of the first statements leave no ambiguity. “The pact will not solve the pressing problems that plague asylum systems in the European Union, including underinvestment in reception systems, illegal and often violent refoulement, policies that deny people the right to asylum, and impunity at Europe’s borders,” denounces Eve Geddie director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “The failed Dublin system will be maintained and the isolation of refugees and asylum seekers will continue, holding them in remote camps. More and more people will try to flee by sea, choosing increasingly dangerous routes,” the NGOs involved in sea rescues jointly state. For Willy Bergogné, director of Save the Children Europe. “the agreement reached today is historically negative. It is clear that for most legislators the priority was to close borders and not to protect people, including families and children fleeing violence, conflict, hunger and death as they seek protection in Europe”.
After the failure of an earlier proposal to reform the Common European Asylum System submitted to Parliament in 2016, the Commission presented new regulatory proposals on migration and international protection policy in September 2020; on these, the European Parliament recently became willing to negotiate, leading to the agreement of 20 December. It is, however – despite the proclamations to which we are now accustomed and which do not impress us much – a downward compromise, with some light and still many shadows and limitations.
The outline of the Dublin regulation is not at all superseded – as is claimed – but only retouched with corrective and more stringent measures that envisage walls, fences, detention and permanence centres (especially in the countries of first entry, where we have been witnessing human rights violations for some time now), with the exaltation of the securitarian approach over the humanitarian and humanitarian one.
European solidarity will continue to be voluntary and will be compulsory only in cases of crisis, large-scale immigration or its instrumentalisation for destabilising purposes, in order to balance the current system that only burdens the countries of first arrival. The compulsoriness will concern 30,000 relocations per year and can be expressed in three ways: the reception of protection seekers in one’s own territory, in case of refusal of relocation, monetary compensation to the receiving countries (20,000 euros for each person refused), and the direct purchase of means and facilities for reception.
Speeding up the processing of applications for protection. Less than two weeks for identification. There will be a filtering mechanism and an accelerated procedure at the border for those statistically less likely to be granted asylum (those considered less than 20 per cent). These persons will be detained in special reception centres (new ones are planned) in order to be transferred quickly to their countries, within three months. The procedure could also be applied to families with children under the age of 12. Each country will have a maximum number of applications to process. If the application is rejected, repatriation will take place within three months.
Reform of the Eurodac regulation (the database containing the fingerprints of irregular migrants and asylum seekers who have been registered in the EU Member States and associated countries), with the collection of further data, such as facial images, also for children aged six and over.
In summary, the new pact envisages stricter controls on migrants arriving in the EU, with procedures that should be swift (and therefore often superficial, concerning people in need), with detention centres (which up to now have been real and poorly managed prisons) close to the borders, in order to speed up the repatriation of those who are not entitled to any form of protection, and with a compulsory solidarity mechanism to provide aid to member states with a strong and critical migratory pressure.
Human rights, people’s dignity (always, especially if in administrative detention), the special protection to be guaranteed to minors and women, reception conditions, remain almost in the background, almost out of duty, in response to the European Parliament, which asked for guarantees on a monitoring mechanism for fundamental rights, reception conditions for families with young children, and access to free legal advice for migrants.
Of reception with criteria of humanity, of new rules for legal entry into Europe for work and study, of circular migration, of active policies of integration and citizenship, of regularisation of those who already work and study, of non-discrimination, of moving away from the exclusive emergency and security approach, of partial and deficient narration and public discourse… When will Parliament and the European institutions take charge of all this as a Union and no longer as a group of individual states, each with a limited view to its own borders?
Nino Sergi, president emeritus of the humanitarian organisation Intersos and policy advisor of Link 2007
The article was published in VITA NON PROFIT HERE