The European Union Scores a Major Deal on Asylum. Will it Succeed?
FAIR Take | July 2023
After years of negotiations, the European Union on June 8 reached a major agreement to manage its soaring asylum claims, called the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. The agreement was passed by a vote of 20-2-5 through the Home Affairs Committee of the EU Council of Ministers, whose members consist of the Home Affairs ministers of each member nation. The vote required a two-thirds majority to pass, but, as the tally indicates, it was hardly unanimous. Hungary and Poland opposed the final draft, while Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Malta, Lithuania and Slovakia abstained. Interestingly, Italy and Greece, whose votes were considered critical due to its geographic location, voted in favor after they received major concessions.
Supporters of the agreement argue that a common system for managing asylum is necessary to properly address the EU’s asylum crisis. Last year, the EU received more than 962,000 asylum applications, the highest figure in the past six years. Supporters say they want to do away with the inadequate “ad-hoc crisis management mode” that has been in place since the massive wave of Syrian and other migrants arrived in Europe in 2015. The data show a steady climb in the number of asylum seekers entering the EU since then.
The Council of Ministers’ agreement on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum has been hailed by one media outlet as a middle-ground compromise and the “best chance in years to reform Europe’s migration rules” that “may change the face of European migration.” In essence, it was designed to placate the EU’s overwhelmed and deeply frustrated southern border nations, especially Italy and Greece (the equivalents of Texas and Arizona in the context of border crises on both sides of the Atlantic), where most migrants first land.
The agreement thus proposes stricter asylum screening at the EU borders while requiring all member states to either accept a certain number of asylees annually or pay a fine. Migrants would be pre-screened right at the EU border. Those deemed unlikely to qualify for asylum in Europe would be detained. Removals would also be expedited, due to Italy’s insistence (and in the face of Germany’s opposition), because individual member states, rather than the EU as a whole, would be allowed to determine to which third country an alien is deported and to define the necessary “connection” to the destination third country (removals to transitional third countries will also be an option).
Moreover, the proposal allows member states to “freeze” the stricter path (i.e., detaining and deporting those assessed unlikely to qualify for asylum) if applications hit a numerical threshold, which would start at 30,000 for the whole union and would rise each year until reaching 120,000. The hope is that the tougher path will discourage economic migrants with fraudulent claims from overwhelming the asylum system due to increased chances of deportation. Not surprisingly, open-borders, pro-mass-migration groups are unhappy about the stricter aspects of the agreement, criticizing them as a supposed violation of human rights.
Simultaneously, in the name of EU “solidarity,” the agreement would compel member states to accept at least 30,000 migrants annually (for all EU countries combined), or pay a minimum penalty of €20,000 ($22,000) per rejected migrant. The money would then be channeled into a central EU fund to pay for “projects” overseas, which will likely mean giving money to Tunisia and other North African countries. This forced-relocation-or-penalty scheme is what pushed Poland and Hungary to vote against the agreement. Warsaw and Budapest feel that they have been warning Europe (especially the great migrant magnet of Germany) against overly permissive immigration and asylum policies for years and should, therefore, not be burdened with the consequences. Perhaps even more importantly, the Poles and Hungarians view the imposition as a clear violation of national sovereignty.
It certainly seems that the EU leadership underestimated the degree to which countries in Central and Eastern Europe, who only succeeded in throwing off the Soviet yoke three decades ago, might be rubbed the wrong way by the mandatory acceptance of migrants, many of whom do not have valid asylum claims. Poland has also accepted an extraordinary 1.3 million refugees from neighboring Ukraine (with more surely on the way), which is reflected in the percentage of refugees as part of the total national population (3.2%), even higher than Germany’s (2.7%).
Now, the European Union is working to finalize the June 8 agreement. Under the EU system, legislation is proposed by the European Commission. That legislation must approved by both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. The Council of Ministers, as its name indicates, is made up of the ministers from the Member Nations. The European Parliament consists of members directly elected by the populations of Member Nations. Last month’s vote of approval in the Council of Ministers allows the Council to start negotiations with the European Parliament. The goal is to pass final legislation before next year’s EU elections.
The ultimate shape and fate of the agreement remains to be seen, and it may get watered down or altered. For instance, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Portugal stated they would push to exclude children and unaccompanied minors from the new system. It is also unclear how strict the new rules will actually be in practice and whether they will be enforced.
Nevertheless, the fact that the Europeans view asylum-abuse-driven mass illegal migration as an unsustainable problem and see the need for stricter policies to deter it should serve as food for thought for the Biden administration. Unfortunately, mass asylum fraud – combined with knowledge of readily exploitable loopholes in destination countries – undoubtedly drive mass illegal migration under the guise of asylum-seeking. Americans have seen plentiful examples of this in recent years – with illegal border crossers claiming “credible fear” of persecution to enter the U.S. and then disappearing into the interior to work and reside illegally (and the immigration court backlog consequently skyrocketing to 2.1 million cases as of January 2023). Sadly, the Biden Administration’s approach to asylum fraud is to pretend it doesn’t exist.