College meeting 23 September 2020 – overview on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum

The EU Commission presented during last press conference, on 24 September 2020, the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. At the conference, intervened first the President von der Leyen and then the Vice-president Margaritis Schiinas, with the Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.  

All three European officials admitted being very proud of the European Union as a whole. They are convinced that the EU has proven already in the past several times, in other areas than migration, to be able to take extraordinary steps to reconcile divergent perspectives. This makes even more unthinkable that in 2020, the EU still has not a single, cohesive migration and asylum policy. The problems of migration in Europe are not because of Europe itself, but instead because they symbolize the costs of non-Europe. 

Indeed, based on a holistic assessment, the EU hopes to improve this situation in a human, sustainable and effective way, thanks to the new system that it has recently proposed, launching a new fresh beginning for the Community. The EU is confident that the plan will allow soon a proper, rational and logical management of migration policy among the member states. 

All things considered, the Dublin system belongs to an era that is now different. It was meant, at the time, for very few asylum seekers fleeing dictatorships to Europe, but not to face up the challenges of nowadays global migration in Europe.

Von der Leyen introduced the new Pact stressing the complexity of the issue of migration, composed by many legitimate interests and facets that need to be weighted together, for example the safety of people who seek international protection, the concerns of countries at the EU’s external borders, the several processes and the relation with external actors. In response to this, the EU has decided with its last proposal to move away from ad hoc solutions and put in place a predictable and reliable migration management system, based on a fair and reasonable balance between responsibility and solidarity, the two most important pillars of the package. Consequently, the EU aims at building a plan on a solid confidence among member states and their partners.

Fast, integrated procedures will ensure clearer responsibilities, helping restore trust between Member States. At the same time, among  benefits of a good migration management and asylum procedures, there are the certainty and protection for migrants and refugees, an efficient operation of the system and credible application of rules.

The Commission’s proposal is expressly built on the high pressure on borders and the different geographic situations, capabilities, and choices that EU member states may face. In migration, no member state has the same experience of the phenomena and no one’s concerns are more legitimate than the others, because they all deserve to be recognized, acknowledged, and addressed. 

Anyway, von der Leyen recalls that all Member States, next to enjoying benefits, support at the same time burdens regarding the migration issue in the EU. Now, the new pact offers a more pragmatic and realistic approach to migration, but member states must anyway strengthen the trust among them and be confident towards their EU citizens. 

Next, the vice-president Schiinas explained more in details the special task force that the EU intends to create to deal with the refugee camp in Moria (Greece), after it was recently set in fire. The task force provides a joint pilot with the Greek legal authorities to manage at best the reception centers in the Member State and alleviate the situation on Lesbos. In particular, new reception facilities will be offered in line with the new pact proposed, the living conditions in the centers will be improved and migration procedures will become faster. The task force will be based on DG Home and will be worked under the responsibility of the official Commissioner Johannes Luchner, from Austria. 

Moreover, vice-president Schiinas compared the essence of the new pact to a house with three floors. Specifically, the first floor comprehends a very strong external dimension, that is strengthened by centered partnerships. Then, the second floor is a robust balancing for external borders. Lastly, the third floor includes fair solidarity rules for the member states that are at most under pressure in the migration system. 

First, a strong external dimension ensures Europe to have reliable partners in order to help countries of origin and returns. Indeed, Europe needs undoubtedly good neighbors and partners to manage migrations flows. Besides, the EU has dedicated, 9 billion euros to support migrants and refugees outside the EU since 2015, providing life savings systems and supporting host communities and IO’s. Particularly, regarding the countries of origins and transit, the EU has two objectives. First of all, the EU wants to support the citizens of these countries offering them a better life with more opportunities, instead of putting them at risk in the hands of smugglers in the Mediterranean Sea. Also, the EU desires to do more for the countries themselves, namely, to help them break the system model of smugglers and to establish a more effective modern management, acceptance, return and readmission system. The EU plans to conclude such agreements through win-win partnerships, guaranteeing benefits to both sides. 

Secondly, the EU aims at integrating new procedures at the border, as a new independent monitoring mechanism in accordance with the EU fundamental rights, which provides mainly a mandatory screening for all irregular arrivals. The screening shall take maximum 5 days. Migrants will be subject to an identification, as well as a health and security check. Asylum seekers, too, must get through mandatory fast track borders procedures. This will allow to direct people immediately to the right procedure and streamline all processes and claims. 

After having been identified, the migrants will be registered into the updated EUdract database, which comprehends much more information than the current data-collection. The database allows to find out whether the individual has already been to Europe before and whether it has already been matched with a similar process. Afterwards, it will be decided which kind of procedures this person shall go through and, in case, which country is responsible for its application. If an asylum applicant has a connection with another member state, for example some family relations, past working, or study experiences, then it may be possible that this other member state will be responsible for its application and process. 

Also, if a person, who does not travel with small children, is not an unaccompanied minor and has no particular medical needs, comes from a country with a very low recognition rate, namely under 20%, then he/she should go to the same border procedures.

Probably many of those will have a negative decision, but not all of them. Generally, it is important that the EU can make decisions of returns very quickly, in total in 12 weeks, and then eventually to be able to manage such returns. As also EU citizens often require, the EU must clarify that it is ready to welcome refugees for international protection and welcome those who have a legal right to work and study in the EU, but those who have not the right to stay, must return back.  

Lastly, fair and firm internal rules regulate how solidarity should be dealt by everyone. Only with a permanent constant solidarity, it will be possible to ensure to each country, depending on its specific circumstances, to obtain the support it needs from the system. Indeed, for example, the relocation of those who probably need international protection is what really alleviate member states facing a high number of arrivals. For the member states under pressure, the Commission will ask the other member states to perform a return sponsorship help and make sure that these people are reintegrated in their country of origin, what will take the system in a sub form of interdependent balance and equilibrium. 

In particular, the solidarity cooperation will work along three workstreams or typologies, namely depending on the situation that the member state finds itself. The member state can activate different procedures. The three possible scenarios are the crisis situation, the pressure or risk of pressure situation and the rescue situation. For each situation, the EU provides specific criteria to guarantee an effective and permanent solidarity.

In the following, Commissioner Johansson observed, as President von der Leyen had told in advance in the State of the Union 2020, that migration has always defined EU’s societies, enriched cultures and shaped human lives. Hopefully, migration has always been heard and states will continue to care about it, because migration is a normal phenomenon. 

Commissioner Johansson continued pointing out that very often migration is linked to crisis, but, in truth, most of  migrants come into the EU legally, so the system works. Indeed, legal migration, for which the EU tends to be very ambitious, normally divorces from the regular discussion of migration. In specific, 24 million migrants received a resident permit in the EU last year. Most of them obtained the permit due to family and relationships reasons, but also because they worked or studied in the EU, or at least they did it already once. At the same time, some of them obtained the asylum. Further numbers tell us that last year, around 1 million migrants left the EU, while every year there are extra 1.5 million people arriving. In addition, almost 700 thousand new European citizenships were issued. 

However, what works inadequately, is the situation with irregular arrivals. Precisely, last year there were 114 thousand irregular arrivals to the EU, and this is really what the EU is now pressing to manage in a better way. Of course, the EU is no more today in the situation of 2015, when there were ca. 1.8 million irregular arrivals, most of which were refugees. Last year, rather, only a minority of irregular arrivals were refugees, while the others not, wherefore they had a return decision. 

In general, of course, the EU needs fewer irregular arrivals, and instead more regular ones. That is why it shall process with more efficiency the returns and readmissions to the countries of origin and focus more on the legal pass ways, both for migrants that contribute to the economy of the EU and refugees that need international protection. Agreement about returns and readmissions will be a priority for the EU. 

The EU will remedy to the several shortcomings of the migration’s system through an intensive dialogue with its member states. Importantly, the EU must pay attention on the protection of its borders in compliance with the Geneva Convention, because this also influences the correct application for the right to asylum. 

Shortly, the EU will also work on further steps and prepare a number of elements that will come on a second stage. For instance, for what regards one of the most crucial topics of the EU, that is Schengen, a new strategy will be presented next year.