The first words that came out were tantamount to an admission of defeat: “No one’s concerns are more legitimate than the others,” said the Greek Margaritis Schinas, vice-president of the EU Commission.
It was a statement that immediately and definitively disappointed the expectations of those who still hoped that the new Pact on migration and asylum would put an end to the Dublin Regulation. In reality, the new rules presented on Wednesday by Ursula von der Leyen together with Schinas and EU Commissioner for Internal Affairs Ylva Johansson were nothing more than what the President of the Commission herself had anticipated last week: a compromise—not to say a failure—that acquiesces to the demands of those countries—first and foremost, the Visegrad Group—that have refused to accept asylum seekers for the past five years.
This forced the top management of the Commission to resort to logical contortionism, talking about “mandatory” but still “flexible solidarity,” in order to avoid saying outright that, as was expected, each member state will be left free to behave as it wishes: to welcome asylum seekers or to put financial resources towards sending them back where they came from.
In short, a Europe à la carte, with even worse news on the horizon: a dangerous restriction of the right to asylum, with rapid screening of applications for international protection, which are supposed to be reviewed “in five days” at the external borders of the EU. “I think we are finding the right balance where we show solidarity towards migrants, asylum seekers and between member states, but that we’re also clear that those who are not eligible to stay, they have to be returned,” clarified Johannson, to avoid all misunderstandings.
Even if Chancellor Merkel would like to enact the reform by the end of the year, when the German presidency comes to an end, the draft proposed on Wednesday was only a “starting point” for now, as von der Leyen called it, but it was more than enough to make clear in what spirit Europe will be preparing to manage the migration phenomenon in the coming years. There is one clear premise: there is no mention of economic migrants in the plan—who constitute the vast majority of those who arrive in Italy—except to say that they must be repatriated. For this purpose as well, the principle that the country of first landing takes responsibility remains in force, one that the Mediterranean countries would have liked to be eliminated.
Blocked at the border—The idea is that those who do not have the right to asylum should never even enter Europe. For this reason, there will be a screening of asylum applications upon arrival, including in the case of those who disembark from an NGO ship. Johansson explained that the screening procedure would last a maximum of five days and would include security checks, including health checks. All people will be identified, fingerprints will be taken and the data will be entered into the Eurodac database. After the five days of screening, there will be 12 weeks to examine the asylum application, including a possible appeal. In case of a rejection, another 12 weeks can be allowed. The plan says that asylum applications “with a low probability of being accepted” must be examined quickly, without the need to enter the territory of the member state.
Family reunification—If the asylum seeker already has a relative in Europe, he or she will be processed by the state where their family member resides. It’s the same situation if he or she has previously worked or studied in a state other than the one through which they entered. A positive innovation is the widening of the scope of the relatives who can be considered part of the family, now extended to brothers, sisters and families that formed during the trip.
Redistributions and repatriations—As we have seen, there will be no obligation to receive asylum seekers. States that do not wish to do so will be able to choose to finance the repatriations of those who have had their asylum applications rejected (“sponsored repatriations”), also using the bilateral agreements previously concluded with the countries of origin. There is also a third possibility, which provides for “solidarity” with the country of entry by providing equipment and personnel.
Third countries—Partnerships with the migrants’ countries of origin are envisaged, which will undertake to fight “people smuggling” and for which quotas for legal entry into Europe are foreseen.
FRONTEX—The border control agency will also be strengthened with air and sea vehicles, and will intervene in support of border states from 2021.
Next, the plan will be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council, where, even though yesterday Italian Prime Minister Conte called the pact “an important step,” it is certain that the countries of southern Europe will push back. “We will have to fight in Parliament so that redistributions are mandatory,” said MEP Pierfrancesco Majorino (PD). Finally, according to Oxfam, “in its attempt to reach consensus, the Commission has bowed to pressure from EU governments whose only objective is to decrease the number of people granted protection in Europe … The new proposals now will likely replicate the abhorrent situation we have been witnessing for years in the Greek EU ‘hotspots’.”