Major overhaul of EU asylum policy approved by European Parliament

MEPs approve 10 Bills making up new migration pact following efforts to reform policies stretching back to 2016

The European Parliament has approved a major overhaul of asylum policy that will harden the bloc’s borders after years of deadlock on the matter.

The reforms include measures to fast-track decisions on some asylum cases, detain more people in facilities at borders and allow countries to make financial contributions in lieu of taking in asylum seekers.

The pact seeks to introduce more burden sharing to help southern European Union countries that have traditionally borne the brunt of the numbers of asylum seekers arriving into Europe. Under the agreement other countries can accept asylum seekers from other EU countries, or make financial contributions of €20,000 for each asylum seeker they refuse to host, to support member states who were accommodating asylum seekers.

The overhaul was proposed by the European Commission in 2020, but the proposals have their roots in efforts at reforming asylum policy that began in 2016.

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During a tense voting session on Wednesday, MEPs approved the 10 Bills that made up the migration pact, which had been trashed out in previous negotiations with the commission.

The centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the centrist Renew group and the centre left Socialists & Democrats (S&D) backed the reforms. Recent days saw a flurry of canvassing across political lines, as the parliament’s three biggest groupings sought to get the agreement over the line.

The Left and Green groupings opposed the measures as a step backwards in terms of human rights, while the far-right opposed on the basis they not go far enough to restrict immigration.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil MEPs voted for the agreement, while those in the Left group, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Luke Ming Flanagan and Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus voted against most of the measures, as did Grace O’Sullivan, Green MEP.

During the debate Ylva Johansson, EU commissioner for home affairs, told the parliament the vote was an “all or nothing decision”, and the reforms would fall if all parts of the pact were not approved.

Speaking afterwards, commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the new approach to asylum in the EU would be “fair and firm”. The pact “strikes the right balance against the abuse of the system and care for the most vulnerable,” she said.

After the legislation is approved by national leaders the process of implementing the new policy will begin, with ministers to meet as early as next month to begin that process.

Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s EU office, said the agreement would increase the number of people held in “detention” at Europe’s borders. The approach to migration policy had been a “race to the bottom” and a constant lowering of standards, as the political centre of gravity shifted to the right, she said.

Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Renew MEP from the Netherlands, said while she supported most of the package, there were “very justified doubts and concerns” about some elements. “You see on my face I’m not jubilant, I’m not going to open a bottle of champagne after this,” she said.

Jorge Buxadé, a Spanish MEP from the right-wing Vox party, said he supported measures to beef up the EU’s database of asylum seekers to allow for better checks. But he said the overall plan did not go far enough when it came to deportations. Jordan Bardella, MEP and president of the French far-right National Rally, said the Identity and Democracy group would vote against the deal as it would not stop the flow of asylum seekers into the EU.

The pact would play into the hands of the far right by creating a “fortress Europe”, said Saskia Bricmont, a Green MEP from Belgium.

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