March 2. 2024. 3:19

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The Brief — A patchwork migration policy


Migration will feature high on the agenda of the Special European Council on Thursday and Friday (9-10 February), where EU leaders will also discuss Ukraine and the economy.

The debates are likely to centre on control of the EU’s external borders, how best to cooperate with third countries, and increasing the rate of returns of asylum-seekers whose applications have failed.

EU leaders are also expected to demand progress in the legislative work on the New Pact for Asylum and Migration, a collection of files aimed at creating a unified bloc approach to newcomers.

As EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said in Brussels in mid-December, the bloc faces the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. In addition to 4.5 million refugees from Ukraine, in the past year, the numbers of asylum-seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt, along with irregular border crossings, have risen sharply.

The EU’s border management agency Frontex registered around 280,000 irregular entries by October — 77% more than in 2021 and the highest number since the peak of the so-called refugee crisis in 2015 and 2016, for which there are only estimations.

In its ‘risk analysis‘ for the period until 2032, Frontex said it expects migration pressure to continue increasing.

Migration is also increasingly entering diplomatic debate as leverage. Poland recently said that it fears Russia and Belarus will again help migrants cross borders in a bid to destabilise Europe. Frontex, for its part, warned that “terrorist groups might use migration flows to cross into Europe and recruit new members from among international migrants”.

Some EU states – even those relatively well-equipped to absorb new arrivals, due to their economies – complain of being overwhelmed.

The New Pact on Migration and Asylum was launched in September 2020 by the Commission, aiming to provide a bloc-wide framework to manage migration flows at the EU’s borders. But work is stalled as some countries, notably in Central Europe, reject the principle of burden-sharing.

In a recent debate in the European Parliament, Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen mentioned a target date, saying that legislative work should continue with a view to concluding the pact by spring 2024.

In parallel, she stressed the need to develop additional actions to bolster the external borders and ensure faster and dignified returns of migrants to their countries of origin or transit, improve voluntary solidarity, address the root causes of migration from third countries, and introduce safe and legal pathways into Europe.

In the meantime, some are proposing their own solutions: in December, Austrian Prime Minister Karl Nehammer suggested that walls be built at the Bulgaria-Turkey border using EU money, an idea that was quickly met with criticism.

It is not impossible that the ‘EU-Turkey agreement’ of 2016 – whereby Brussels provided €6 billion to help refugees in Turkey in exchange for Ankara preventing them from travelling to the Greek islands – could be revived.

In the meantime, some EU lawmakers have called for processing asylum seekers’ applications outside the EU borders, as the UK is seeking to do in Rwanda.

Others have warned that search and rescue operations at sea by NGOs should not be a “taxi” service for bringing illegal migrants to Europe.

Migration – a famously thorny and politically-sensitive topic – demands multilateral cooperation. The melting pot of national interests, economic capacities, geographical realities and political sensibilities has so far seen the EU unable to produce a common, and truly unified response to the issue.

“No agreement on asylum possible before EU elections, EU member states admit,” EURACTIV wrote in 2019.

For now, it looks quite likely that a story with a similar headline will be run ahead of the 2024 EU elections.


The Roundup

The German branch of Kremlin-backed outlet Russia Today (RT DE) will shut its doors following the latest round of EU sanctions, a month after its French counterpart was forced to do the same.

As the US competition authority proposed to ban non-compete clauses in employment contracts, a conversation about the exploitation of market power by employers is slowly taking shape in Europe.

The European Union’s newly agreed carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) will likely test Western Balkan countries vying for bloc membership as they seek to align themselves with the EU acquis.

EU countries should have “an unrestricted right” to subsidise power plants providing dispatchable electricity in case wind and solar are unavailable, according to a non-paper circulated by Warsaw ahead of EU proposals next month to reform the bloc’s electricity market rules.

The lawmaker in charge of steering negotiations on the EU’s revised renewable energy directive has cancelled an upcoming round of talks, laying the blame on the European Commission for failing to present a key piece of related hydrogen legislation.

Spanish Member of European Parliament Inma Rodríguez-Piñero called for a swift wrap-up of negotiations between the EU and the South-American trading bloc Mercosur following years of delay due to environmental concerns and agricultural interests.

Look out for…

  • High Representative Josep Borrell delivers keynote speech at Conference ‘Beyond disinformation – EU responses to the threat of foreign information manipulation‘.
  • EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel participates in Informal COMPET Council Research in Stockholm.
  • Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski speaks via videoconference with President of European Rural Poultry Association Carlos Terraz.
  • Informal meeting of competitiveness ministers continues on Tuesday.
  • EU-Moldova Association Council on Tuesday.