Lisa O'Carroll, The Guardian, June 8, 2023
The EU has agreed radical reforms of its migration and asylum laws including charges of €20,000 (£17,200) per head for member countries that refuse to host refugees.
After almost 12 hours of intense negotiations in Luxembourg, and years of fighting, interior ministers struck a deal on Thursday on what they described as a “historical” new approach to what one politician described as an often “toxic topic”.
Maria Malmer Stenergard, who was part of the Swedish lead negotiating team, said: “I didn’t really believe I would be sitting here saying this … but we have adopted general approaches on the asylum and migration management regulation and asylum procedure regulation.”
Under a last-minute compromise, it was agreed that member states, rather than the EU as a whole, would determine what country is “safe” for migrants turned away on the grounds that they are not eligible for asylum.
Countries will be obliged to show a “connection” with the country that any migrant is transferred to, but this link can be defined by the member state, diplomats said.
This appears to give each country flexibility on whether they can return migrants to third countries that not every EU nation might agree is a safe haven.
One source said the deal was struck after Italy and several other states demanded that the so-called “connection” rule – requiring strong bonds with a third country, such as a years-long work history – was watered down.
At the weakest interpretation of the “connection” rule, a member state that wants to return a migrant to a third country may need only to demonstrate that an applicant has stayed in the country, which would enable Italy, for example, to transfer migrants to “a transition country” such as Tunisia.
Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Piantedosi, said: “Today is a day where something is beginning. We are not arriving; we are setting off.”
The political significance of Italy, which is at the frontline of the migration crisis, is underlined by the revelation that European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and Mark Rutte – the Dutch prime minister – will join Italian PM Giorgia Meloni on a visit to Tunisia in the coming days.
Meloni, who was swept to power last year on tough rhetoric about migrants, hopes to strike a partnership deal with the government to take migrants.
A new system allowing for a redistribution of migrants across the EU will also be put in place, with an effective quota on how many people frontline states have to process before asking for help.
Charges, which Poland branded “fines”, for those countries who cannot take a share of relocated migrants were set at €20,000 per head, down from the €22,000 first mooted at the opening of Thursday’s negotiations.
Bulgaria, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia abstained from voting for the deal, while Hungary and Poland indicated that they would not support it.
Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal said they would continue to campaign for changes in the full legislation to exclude children and unaccompanied minors from the new rules.
Nancy Faeser, Germany’s home minister, said: “This was not an easy decision for all of us around the table, but it was historic.”
The Dutch government hailed it as an “important step”, while the Austrians said it was “a step forward”, but urged counterparts to continue the effort to stamp out the tragedy in the Mediterranean. More than 2,000 people suffocated or drowned attempting crossings last year.