The Irish Times view on the new EU asylum laws: a sweeping new approach

Some of the changes are contentious and have been criticised by human rights advocates

With the election of a new European Parliament less than two months away, the current parliament this week approved what may prove to be one of its most consequential measures. It has been clear for some time that EU policy on asylum seekers required reform. But division between member states and disagreement between rival political blocs meant progress had been painfully slow.

Now, faced with the prospect of a more fractured and probably more hardline post-election landscape, the EU has successfully reached agreement on a package of sweeping new laws. These will see a hardening of the approach towards those claiming international protection, with faster processing of claims and swifter deportations of those that are unsuccessful. New measures were also agreed to share the burden which currently falls on the southern member states where most asylum seekers arrive, and for enhanced co-operation and information-sharing.

Some of these changes are contentious and have been criticised by human rights advocates, as well as by left and Green parties, who predict they will lead to more miscarriages of justice. Criticism has also come from parties on the anti-immigration right, which is expected to increase its parliamentary representation in the elections and which demands an even harsher approach.

The measures were supported by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil representatives and opposed by Ireland’s other MEPs. Sinn Féin’s Chris MacManus felt it necessary to clarify that his party was against “open borders”. This non sequitur has become a party mantra recently, suggesting Sinn Féin may be feeling under pressure on its right flank over immigration.

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Alongside the new policies, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and a number of national leaders are continuing to negotiate agreements with the countries along the southern shore of the Mediterranean from which most asylum seekers are arriving. A much-criticised deal with Tunisia’s authoritarian government was followed last month by a similar agreement with Egypt. Negotiations with Morocco are reportedly continuing. This “offshoring” of the asylum process to regimes with dubious human rights records has been rightly criticised as a betrayal of the EU’s stated values.

It is clear that the impetus for this week’s developments is the surge in support for nativist and anti-immigrant parties across the EU in the run-up to June’s elections. Whether the new measures will stem that tide, as the parties of the traditional centre hope, or whether, as some suggest, they merely play into the far-right’s hands, remains to be seen. What is certain is that, driven by violent conflict, poverty and climate change, the flow of those making the dangerous journey to seek a better life in Europe is not going to stop.

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