Solidarity à la carte, too strong a focus on border controls and too little emphasis on legal and labour migration pathways are among the main faults found in the New Migration Pact, with few tangible achievements in Member States’ negotiations on how to deliver a comprehensive policy that can successfully rise to the challenge of effectively managing migration to the EU
On 19 May, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)'s Thematic study group on immigration and integration (IMI) held a virtual conference on the state of play in reaching agreement on the building blocks of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, unveiled by the European Commission in September 2020 and still being negotiated between the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.
Eight months later, talks among the Member States have yielded few concrete results. Demands by other European institutions, civil society and the social partners to address the gaps in the proposed Pact have not yet been heeded. Due to some serious shortcomings, the Pact could have potential negative knock-on effects if rolled out in its current form, according to most participants in the EESC's hearing on Building a meaningful and functioning New Pact on Migration and Asylum.
The conference brought together the rapporteurs for the EESC opinions on the main proposals put forward by the European Commission in the pact. Other speakers included representatives of European and international institutions, the social partners and civil society.
The main objections raised were that the current proposal was far too focused on border controls and on stopping illegal migration, while paying very little attention to improving legal migration pathways. Concern was equally expressed about the feasibility of the new solidarity mechanism, which was described as
solidarity à la carte.
THE EESC AND THE CoR DECRY THE PACT'S FLAWED CONCEPT OF SOLIDARITY
Although the Commission's document provides a very sound analysis of migration issues, the overwhelming majority of its proposals focus on the residual part of migration, the one that is illegal, said José Antonio Moreno Díaz, rapporteur for the EESC opinion A New Pact on Migration and Asylum.
Mr Moreno Díaz also singled out the extreme danger of externalising migration management, as the recent events in Ceuta and Libya had showed. He said that unclear measures on detention or retention centres, which contain no precise information as to whether these will be located inside or outside the EU, were
very dangerous path to go down.
His words were echoed by the opinion's co-rapporteur, Cristian Pîrvulescu, who said that the EESC was well aware of the constraints facing the Commission, given that the Pact had to be approved by the Council and that some Member States were not well disposed towards it.
Nevertheless, the Commission has not been overly ambitious. It does not propose anything in terms of the UN Global Pact for Migration, Mr Pîrvulescu said.
Panagiotis Gkofas, a Greek EESC member and rapporteur for the opinion on Asylum procedures under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, raised doubts about the proposed solidarity mechanism, which only
increases the burden on the countries of first entry, as there is no common procedure for asylum, which then becomes exclusively a problem for the country in which a migrant first arrives.
Under the Pact, solidarity is both mandatory and flexible. It requires all Member States to share responsibility, but countries can choose from three forms of solidarity - relocation, return sponsorship, and
in kind contributions to help countries facing migratory pressure.
Another stumbling block is the proposal on the return of migrants who do not qualify for international protection.
It is unclear where these people will go, where we send them back to, as there is no agreement with countries of origin. This is very dangerous. If somebody asks for asylum, it means there are problems, so where exactly are we sending people back to?, Mr Gkofas asked.
Paul Soete, IMI President and rapporteur for the opinion on the Action plan on integration and inclusion 2021-2027 and chair of the virtual conference, stated the importance of investing in timely and adequate measures for migrant integration. The real challenge of the new Action Plan lies in its implementation, which is why the EESC is encouraging the Commission to put in place a monitoring mechanism to supervise how Member States achieve its goals.
Antje Grotheer, member of the Committee of the Regions (CoR), and rapporteur for the CoR's opinion on the Pact, said that the local and regional level, although crucial, had not been taken sufficiently into account in the Pact, despite the fact that border regions had been hit especially hard by migration flows.
The CoR asked the Commission to revise its proposal so that regions at the external borders receive more support. We also asked for vulnerable migrants to be more protected and to give local authorities adequate means, Ms Grotheer said.
THE COMMISSION: A PRAGMATIC AND COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH
Michael Shotter, Director of Migration, Protection and Visa at the European Commission said that the new Pact took an ambitious and comprehensive approach to migration.
We had to move away from ad hoc solutions to develop a system based on fair sharing of responsibility and solidarity where no Member State should shoulder responsibility alone, Mr Shotter said, refuting criticism that the solidarity proposed in the pact was voluntary.
He stressed the external dimension of the pact, which strengthened partnerships with countries of transit. Tailor-made and mutually beneficial partnerships with third countries are also planned to tackle the effective implementation of readmission agreements. This represents a paradigm shift, Mr Schotter explained.
In his view, the recent political agreement on the Blue Card, which provides for the entry and residence of highly skilled migrant workers, is very encouraging. Mr Schotter also emphasised the importance of the proposal on the EU asylum agency, which is
very much needed on the ground to advance and support the asylum system.
The role of the Commission is to build bridges and that is what we intend to do - to help the Parliament and the Council to come together. We are heading in the right direction, he maintained.
For the European Parliament LIBE Chair, MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the main problem lies in the attitude of some Member States and not in the content of the new Pact, which does not fill any voids in European legislation, as the values of binding solidarity and shared responsibility are already enshrined in the EU Treaties.
The situation regarding migration to the EU is far from acceptable. The situation is not like in 2015, when we had a large influx of refugees and migrants. But the standards provided by the Common European Asylum System continue not to be applied by a number of Member States who are in denial or in contempt of European law, Mr López Aguilar said.
Carlos Moreira, Head of Strategic Committee on Immigration Frontiers and Asylum (SCIFA) of the Portuguese presidency, said that cooperation with third countries was one of Portugal's priorities while at the helm of the EU. In an attempt to address the root causes of migration, the presidency has taken concrete steps to boost migration partnerships with third countries, and has identified priority countries in northern Africa, the Western Balkans and in East Africa.
Matej Torkar, Chair of SCIFA Committee of the future Slovenian EU presidency, which takes over from Portugal in July, said that his country would seek to achieve as much progress as possible on the proposals put forward in the Pact and was planning to organise discussions on the different sections of the Pact at a number of strategic levels.
DEFENDING 'FORTRESS EUROPE'
Representatives of civil society expressed strong criticism of the new Pact as a whole and of some of its proposals in particular.
We regret that the Pact fails to create a common EU-wide, rights-based policy that ensures Member States take responsibility for asylum seekers and caters to migrants' needs. Instead, it succumbed to anti-immigrant political movements and Member States who wish to treat migration and asylum as an exclusively national matter, said ETUC's Advisor Mercedes Miletti.
With a massive reinforcement of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, and by creating the figure of an EU General Coordinator for returns, the Pact effectively seeks to strengthen
Fortress Europe, Ms Miletti said, adding that these measures will prevent asylum seekers from being able to reach EU countries to apply for asylum, forcing them to take even more dangerous routes and to rely on smugglers.
Mikeal Leyi, Secretary General of SOLIDAR, said that standards imposed by the Pact hampered sea rescue actions carried out by NGOs, which are needed
due to national and EU institutions’ negligence.
What is going on in the Mediterranean Sea throws historical shame on Europe and puts all our values into question, Mr Leyi stressed.
He too was pessimistic about the solidarity mechanism, because there was no common will among Member States to enhance cooperation on migration.
When push comes to shove, frontline states will soon realise there are clear limits to solidarity, he warned.
Other objections raised included the failure by the Commission to provide clear guidance on legal pathways for migration or to come up with more opportunities for labour migration across skills and sectors. In this respect, the Blue Card agreement was too narrow in scope, as it only provided for highly skilled labour, Ms Miletti maintained.
In ETUC's view, denying migrant workers their rights will only lead to their continued exploitation on the job market, which in in turn creates and cements division among workers, and lowers conditions and pay for all workers. Ms Miletti called for the revision of the Single Permit Directive, which could provide more opportunities for medium- and low-skilled migrants, in turn helping the recovery.
Ola Henrikson, EU Regional Director of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said that the IOM was ready to cooperate with institutions and Member States to support labour migration. In this respect, he stressed the importance of migrant integration into communities, as well as the development of their skills.
The UNHCR's Head of Policy and Legal support, Sophie Magennis, raised some positive developments regarding resettlement, with Member States expressing greater interest in expanding resettlement arrivals.
This is the time for Member States to pledge much more in this regard. They have to make progress in discussions on solidarity and step up their capacities, she concluded.