GRANADA – During the Spanish presidency of the European Union, the European migration and asylum agreement is at the top of the agenda. The President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, emphasised this during the presentation of the presidency.
His goal is to conclude this agreement. On Friday, October 6, the European heads of state will meet in the Congress Building in Granada. The migration and asylum agreement represents a major challenge and is of great importance for Spain. The country, together with Malta, Cyprus, Italy and Greece, all on the Mediterranean Sea, is under the most migratory pressure from Africa.
After the latest meeting of EU interior ministers in Brussels, the Spanish minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, expressed confidence that the EU will reach the final agreement before the EU summit in Granada later this week. An agreement is important given the significant migration from North Africa this year. More than 133,000 people arrived at Italian ports. That is twice as much as last year and three times as much as in 2020.
“There is an increase in the number of refugees. A general increase,” says researcher Raquel García of the Real Instituto Elcano. “And the EU agreements with third countries have not solved the problem as the numbers continue to rise,” she adds.
What exactly is the migration agreement?
The Migration and Asylum Agreement is a set of rules and policies aimed at regulating the entry of people from third countries into the EU, with the aim of creating a “fairer, more efficient and more sustainable” process for the European Union, as stated by the European Commission explains on its website.
This agreement was proposed by the European Commission in September 2020, and since then the EU Member States have worked together to reach an agreement that is accepted by all Member States. “It is a file that is lagging behind, because the European Migration and Asylum Policy is not just a legislative project, but a collection of countless proposals,” explains Raquel García.
In June this year, the European Council took an important step when EU Home Affairs Ministers agreed on two new regulations to improve the relocation of refugees and the processing of asylum applications.
One of the key points to reach this agreement for a common management of migration and asylum policy in the EU is the possibility of paying around €20,000 instead of taking in a refugee.
Why has there not been an agreement yet?
EU countries have been trying for more than three years to reach an agreement on migration policy reform, with the aim of all EU countries sharing responsibility for receiving migrants or at least covering the costs of reception.
Despite major progress in June, following the conclusion of two key parts of the agreement – the regulation on asylum procedures and the one on migration management – the crisis management regulation still needs to be agreed to apply in situations of mass influx of migrants.
“Significant progress has been made in the European Council to specify two concrete legal reforms to the current Dublin agreements, which mainly concern asylum seekers from outside,” said Manuel López Linares, professor of International Relations at the University of Pontificia Comillas. “The European Parliament aims to adopt this third regulation, which also specifies the measures in case of an unexpected crisis,” he added.
According to López Linares, this third regulation that will regulate situations of crisis is “more difficult”. “This is because it is necessary to agree on the treatment of people in emergency situations who are at the limit of their human rights,” he emphasises.
Which countries are difficult?
Within the EU, Poland and Hungary have traditionally been reluctant to accept quotas for migrants arriving in these migration flows.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki recently announced that his country would block Brussels’ decision on forced relocation of immigrants or demand €20,000 per refugee from countries that refuse to take them.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has also repeatedly said that his country will not accept quotas for refugees. Orbán calls for strengthened borders and surveillance measures and proposes providing aid to crisis areas where the migrants come from, instead of bringing the problems to Europe.
“It is necessary to reconcile many sensitivities between those who do not want to receive mandatory quotas for migrants and the countries that provide the first line of reception,” says researcher from the Real Instituto Elcano. “Also with countries targeted by secondary movements, such as Germany, which always has a positive attitude towards European agreements, but of course has a different attitude towards migration agreements than Spain, because it is a secondary movement and not a first entry,” she explains.
In early September, more than 10,000 migrants arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the closest island to Africa, in just three days. This situation makes the need for an EU asylum and migration system that provides solutions more apparent.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, visited the island amid the mass arrival of refugees and from there announced an action plan to control illegal immigration and share the distribution of migrants arriving on Italian shores.
“Situations like this, especially the current one, will force governments with very specific views to make demands that will be difficult for some to accept, and to keep promises to solve these problems that in fact turn out to be impossible to implement,” says López Linares.
“We can expect that Meloni will be very demanding and will try to make the entire European Union responsible, that it should receive maximum support, and there will be a debate on how the specific distribution of people and the possibility of public financing from the EU budget will take place. There will be negotiations and a tough position is expected to be taken by the Italian Prime Minister,” the professor predicts.
Raquel García believes that critical situations “will likely lead to strict measures when it comes to migration.” “I don’t think that when we see a crisis as we have unfortunately been seeing for many years, this will lead to a relaxation of migration policies. Unfortunately, the direction is completely different, as can be seen in the Migration and Asylum Agreement, which aims to promoting returns and control mechanisms at the border. Much stricter measures and agreements with third countries to manage migration,” she stressed.
In her first year in office, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has approved four decrees to strengthen migration controls.
How does the EU try to stop illegal immigration?
The European Union has signed agreements with some of the countries from which boats carrying migrants and refugees depart, providing money and resources to combat illegal immigration.
The latest agreement was concluded in July between Brussels and Tunisia, under which the African country will receive €105 million to combat illegal migration, as well as €150 million in budget support and €900 million in long-term support. The President of the European Commission said that this agreement could serve as a model for agreements with other countries in the future.
But it is not the only agreement the EU has made with other countries. In 2016, an agreement was reached with Turkey regarding refugees, with the aim of stopping the migration flow by returning migrants who entered Greece illegally to Turkey.
The EU pays for Tunisia’s border control: this is the main migration route to Europe “There is a very controversial agreement with Turkey, which, in addition to economic support, seeks to retain 50% of people who arrive as a transit country,” López Linares explains . “In North Africa there are agreements with almost all countries. The problem that Tunisia is experiencing right now is that it has a serious economic problem with a large budget deficit and urgently needs money,” he adds.