Home stretch for the European pact on migration and asylum. MEPs vote on Wednesday April 10 in Brussels for or against the vast reform of European migration policy. This “migratory pact” provides in particular for the tightening of control over migrant arrivals within the European Union (EU), and the establishment of a system of solidarity between Member States in the distribution of refugees.

Presented in 2020, this reform project was the subject of intense negotiations within the Twenty-Seven, deeply divided on this subject since the refugee crisis in 2015. But the representatives of the States and the European Parliament finally managed to find a decisive agreement at the end of 2023, paving the way today for definitive adoption two months before the European elections.

What does this pact contain? What changes are being made to European migration policy? The Decoders take stock.

Presented on September 23, 2020 by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the European pact on asylum and migration aims to fundamentally reform European migration policy undermined during the 2015 migration crisis. massive influx of migrants (1.8 million arrivals in one year) had, in fact, greatly destabilized cooperation between Member States, and illustrated European failure in terms of asylum and immigration. Today, the EU is facing a new rise in asylum applications. They reached their highest level since the 2015 migration crisis, with 1.14 million applications in 2023. The European border and coast guard agency, Frontex, also says it recorded the largest increase in 2023 of irregular entries into the European Union since 2016.

The migration pact, supported by France, aims to reform the controversial Dublin regulation (known as “Dublin III”) which crystallizes all the tensions. Adopted in 2013, this system delegates the processing of asylum applications to the first EU countries in which migrants arrive (Italy, Greece, Malta, etc.), and concentrates a good part of the migratory pressure there. But the 2015 crisis highlighted the ineffectiveness of this system, the weaknesses of national asylum systems, and the lack of solidarity in the EU, while countries on the front line, such as Greece, were overwhelmed and unable to properly process asylum applications.

Since then, the countries of first entry have called for a more effective solidarity mechanism. But in vain. The project for the distribution and compulsory quotas of refugees was put in place in the wake of the migration crisis, but it did not have the expected effect since it was not applied by certain member states such as Poland and Hungary. It is to remedy these difficulties and shortcomings that a new pact has been proposed.

This is a set of ten legislative texts (nine regulations and one directive) intended to establish a balance between border control and solidarity in the reception of refugees on European soil. “If the pact aims to try to better control the borders, the overall philosophy remains the same as “Dublin III”, with countries of entry which remain responsible for most receptions”, summarizes Camille Le Coz, associate director at the Migration Policy Institute Europe research center.

Concretely, Brussels intends to act on three key elements.

– Accelerated border management. The pact provides “new procedures to quickly establish a person’s status upon arrival.” Clearly, migrants will have to know more quickly – within five days – whether they can stay in Europe or leave, via a “screening” procedure upon entry (identity check, security and health checks, statement fingerprints).

– Strengthening cooperation with countries of origin and transit (such as those in the Balkans) in order to limit arrivals, and fight against smuggling networks and migrant smuggling. Brussels aims in particular to change the way of forging migration partnerships with third countries, and to position Europe within the framework of a more voluntary labor migration policy.

– A new, more flexible solidarity mechanism. Each country must contribute to the solidarity mechanism, but in a less restrictive manner. While relocations (transfers of asylum seekers between Member States) were previously compulsory, they are now done on a voluntary basis. Countries therefore have several options: relocation, financial contribution, or other solidarity measures (deployment of personnel, logistical aid to other countries, etc.). Each year, in order to better take into account migratory flows, the Commission will produce a report and propose recommendations.

It is on this new system that the criticisms of the extreme right are focused, in particular those of the National Rally. However, contrary to what Jordan Bardella’s party assures, the relocation of refugees will not be compulsory. All member states are required to contribute to solidarity, preferably in the form of relocation, but other options are offered for countries that refuse to welcome exiles. On the contrary, the Greens, the radical left and certain socialists (like the French candidate Raphaël Glucksmann) denounce what they consider to be an “externalization of our borders”, with a return of applicants to “safe” third countries. The text, however, has the support of the groups three main European political families, EPP, Socialists and Democrats (S

The final vote on the “migration pact” is due to take place on April 10 at the European Parliament in Brussels, after more than three years of negotiations. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who made this reform a key text of her mandate, has long feared that it would not succeed before the European elections, scheduled for June. “This pact was delayed because the negotiations were very politicized and the migration issue remains the one on which Europe is still torn apart,” analyzes Camille Le Coz, also knowing that the text also proved extremely complex to negotiate. »

After two years of political paralysis, negotiations made significant progress in 2023. On April 20, the European Parliament adopted its negotiating position in favor of four fundamental texts, including the “filtering” regulation and the essential , managing “crisis situations.”

Two months later, on June 8, 2023, member states found a compromise on two essential bills, notably that establishing the new compulsory solidarity mechanism. “An important step”, even greeted Ursula von der Leyen. During its annual State of the Union speech on September 13, 2023, it ordered the deputies and the Twenty-Seven to adopt the pact. “Let’s show that Europe can manage migration effectively and compassionately. Let’s finish the job! » Deep divisions still remained among member states. Poland and Hungary opposed these two texts, while Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovakia abstained.

The last section devoted to the management of crisis situations was blocked by Germany in particular, but a compromise was found at the end of September. At the end of December, a decisive agreement between EU institutions was sealed to adopt the five most important regulations of the migration pact. But this announcement was strongly criticized by NGOs, who point to measures contrary to fundamental human rights.

Camille le Coz calls for caution regarding the outcome of this text. “If this project is not adopted, it will mark a failure of the European project which the far right will continue to exploit. » Conversely, if it is adopted, we will have to remain attentive to its implementation, particularly to respect for the rights of asylum seekers: “The modalities of implementation of the text will be as important as past negotiations, and the European partners will need an action plan that guarantees these fundamentals. (…) During the 2015 crisis, Europe had a common text on asylum and migration, which, in the end, only existed on paper. »

This article is an update of an initial version published in September 2023.