September 21. 2023. 1:24

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The Brief — Baby steps

Thursday night’s migration deal struck by EU home affairs ministers in Luxembourg is not ambitious. However, it was never going to be.

The EU’s immigration and asylum policy has looked like an insoluble problem for years, and the pact as it stands is better than nothing.

That said, it is rare for politicians to be so candid about an agreement that they have just reached, especially after close to eight years of often-bitter negotiations.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock did not attempt to hide her disappointment with the final agreement. Baerbock’s Green party and their Socialist coalition partners in Berlin believe that the government has sold out by agreeing to introduce rapid asylum procedures at the EU’s borders.

But kicking the can – as Baerbock said – would have meant that “a common European asylum policy based on solidarity would be dead for years. And instead, all those who want to raise national walls in Europe again anyway would have a free pass.”

Also defeated – probably for good – was the argument for an EU-wide scheme of mandatory relocation quotas.

Again, this is no surprise, since a handful of member states have made it clear for years that mandatory relocation was politically impossible for them. However, it will be a bitter blow to those who have campaigned for a more humane approach to migration policy.

There will be no solidarity mechanism for relocations. Swedish Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard told reporters on Thursday night that there is no EU-agreed list of ‘safe’ countries, a move that opens the door to increased deportations.

What we are left with is the decision to charge governments a €20,000 levy for each migrant that they refuse to host, the closest thing to burden sharing in the agreement.

Poland says it will refuse to pay what it describes as EU fines, and Hungary – the other country to oppose the agreement – will probably say the same. However, neither is in a strong position.

By a distance, Warsaw is the biggest single net beneficiary of EU spending, while Hungary ranks third – if they refuse to pay, the European Commission can simply withhold their funding.

There is not yet much clarity on how the cash raised by these levies will be spent, a point that could lead to further bumps in the road.

Greek officials were briefed that the money will be used to reimburse it and other front-line countries for the cost of hosting migrants. Stenergard and the EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson say that it will go into a common EU fund – managed by the Commission – to finance projects to address the root causes of migration.

After years of disputed applications, returns and relocation, the Luxembourg pact represents a step forward – but it is the smallest of baby steps.

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The Roundup

A European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling published on Thursday slammed Barcelona’s strict private hire vehicles rules as “contrary to EU law”, in a move that could have EU-wide repercussions.

The EU Council of Ministers agreed on Friday on a general approach to the anti-SLAPP directive, which aims to tackle abusive lawsuits filed to silence journalists and rights defenders, but not everyone is convinced it goes far enough.

A parliamentary report on foreign interference in France, prepared upon demand of Marine Le Pen’s far-right party and published on Thursday, highlighted China’s growing interference, pointing to its methods that are becoming increasingly aggressive.

In a non-paper sent to representatives of the European Parliament and national ministers, EU Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius provides negotiators with arguments to defend the planned Nature Restoration law against calls to scrap it.

The Green Deal must be the EU’s response to both past and present crises, Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius told EURACTIV France, adding that he will continue to meet with MEPs to explain his side of the debate.

To tackle the railway delays plaguing Germany, the federal government plans to reform the company structure of state-owned operator Deutsche Bahn, but private railway operators and the opposition warn that the reform might fall short.

Don’t forget to check out this week’s Tech Brief and the Agrifood Brief.

Look out for…

  • International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen attends G20 Development Ministers’ meeting in India Sunday-Monday.
  • Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, together with Italian PM Giorgia Meloni and Dutch PM Mark Rutte, meets with Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis on Sunday.
  • Informal meeting of agriculture and fisheries ministers Sunday-Tuesday.

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