Call us

The New Pact: A vital step for an effective and humane EU migration policy

Migration / COMMENTARY
Jan-Christoph Oetjen

Date: 19/02/2024
The New Pact on Migration and Asylum proposes vital solutions for harmonising asylum procedures and ensuring fair burden-sharing between member states. The compromise reached by the European Parliament (EP) and the Council on the New Pact reflects the EU’s commitment to establishing an effective, comprehensive, and humane migration policy.

The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015/16 exposed significant deficiencies in the European asylum system, especially when put under pressure. The most serious consequence is the significant number of people who lost their lives on their journey to Europe. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 28,000 migrants have been recorded as dead or missing since 2014. This makes the route to Europe the deadliest in the world - a shocking fact that we, as Europeans, can no longer accept. In addition to humanitarian tragedies in the Mediterranean, failures in managing rising migration flows have repeatedly called into question member states’ solidarity toward migrants and among each other.

Reforming the current system is necessary to protect the fundamental values our Union is built on. It is in this spirit that the EP has sought and reached an agreement with the Council on the New Pact reforms.

The core goal of the Parliament is to realise truthful promises for asylum-seekers while addressing shortcomings in the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Two essential elements of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum stand out: the reform will harmonise asylum procedures at the EU’s external borders and introduce a flexible but mandatory solidarity mechanism between member states.

The added value of the New Pact reforms

The new Asylum Procedure Regulation (APR) ensures that the same procedures and procedural standards apply to all asylum applicants across EU member states. Following an initial screening process that may last a maximum of seven days, those who arrive irregularly and seek international protection will either be directed to a regular asylum procedure or an accelerated border procedure, speeding up the processes. This procedure will apply if the average recognition rate for the country of origin of the asylum applicant is less than 20%. For example, this would mean that applicants from Pakistan, whose rate was 12% in 2023, would have to undergo the accelerated procedure. The whole procedure will run under the ‘legal fiction of non-entry’ into the EU, meaning that while physically present in a member state, the applicant has not legally entered EU territory. This will ensure that the asylum seeker’s application does not automatically result in a right to stay in the country of entry.

The new rules will make processing asylum applications more efficient by setting out clear time limits. This will relieve states of a heavy organisational and administrative burden and provide migrants with legal certainty. Eventually, the new system will ensure that more resources are allocated to adequately receive and integrate those entitled to protection. At the same time, many procedural safeguards are embedded in the new system. Most importantly, unaccompanied minors are always exempt from border procedures.

Establishing a solidarity system is the cornerstone of a second crucial file within the New Pact, namely the Regulation on Asylum and Migration Management (RAMM). This reform is an essential step to improving burden-sharing among EU member states, which is one of the critical shortcomings in the current system. While the reform maintains the first country of entry principle for determining responsibility for asylum claims, the new rules also introduce a binding solidarity mechanism.

The current system does not function because there are no mandatory responsibility-sharing arrangements. Therefore, the new rules under RAMM address this problem by requiring member states to provide support. For example, through relocation programmes or financial assistance. By clearly assigning member states’ responsibilities and harmonising asylum procedures, the new system reduces the incentives for asylum-seekers to file claims in multiple member states and minimises the risk of secondary migratory movements.

The envisaged changes to the CEAS relieve states on the EU’s external borders or highly sought-after destination countries from their heavy burdens. Eventually, having a clear mechanism that facilitates transfers to the responsible member state will resolve tensions between them and states that are hesitant to share responsibilities due to domestic political reasons.

The path ahead

The New Pact will strengthen migration governance. This is good news for the EU, as it will also help to reduce the risk of political extremism. A better functioning EU asylum system will enhance the acceptance of refugees with legitimate protection claims within the host society. Surveys consistently show that while EU citizens welcome asylum seekers fleeing for political reasons, this willingness significantly decreases for so-called economic refugees.

On a structural level, the achievement between the Council and the Parliament is a ground-breaking success for the European project. Many citizens have doubted the Union’s ability to act on such a divisive issue. However, we have been able to prove that through open-minded and pragmatic debates, the institutions can achieve a balanced stance between human rights, moral obligations, and effective and trustworthy policy-making.

Nevertheless, we must also be aware of the challenges that still lie ahead. After the successful trilogue negotiations, we need to ensure that the new rules can unfold their potential.

First, we need to monitor member states’ compliance with provisions such as the solidarity mechanism. While member states can choose flexibly between different support measures, mutual assistance is mandatory. This creates clear obligations for member states, while taking into account national preferences and political circumstances regarding migration policies. As soon as the solidarity mechanism is firmly anchored in EU law, the Commission will be able to monitor compliance more closely and, if needed, penalise any violations through legal proceedings.

For border procedures to be effective, we need readmission agreements to return rejected asylum seekers to their home countries or safe third countries. At all times, these agreements must respect international law, in particular the non-refoulement principle. We must also critically review existing and new agreements with third countries, such as Tunisia, regarding their respect of fundamental rights. The European Parliament must be involved systematically in these processes.

In addition to implementing the new rules on dealing with irregular arrivals, we also need to establish harmonised and unbureaucratic rules for labour migration. Migrants searching for economic perspectives must no longer be pressurised into using irregular migration routes, especially not in light of the demographic shift across Europe that urgently requires us to fill labour shortages. To this end, the EU must create a comprehensive framework that regulates the accelerated recognition of qualifications and ensures the social and legal integration of migrants with a view to long-term prospects. Therefore, in the EP, we are currently discussing the creation of an EU Talent Pool based on a proposal by the European Commission from November 2023. The aim is to establish a platform with a matching mechanism between EU employers and jobseekers living in third countries.

An encouraging step in the right direction

It is time for the EU to develop a unifying stance towards migration that focuses on the opportunities and benefits for our societies and our economies rather than on divisive issues that separate us.

Essentially, these reforms will improve the management of irregular migration while also allowing us in the EU and national policymakers to concentrate our political and financial resources on supporting those with a legitimate protection claim. Eventually, this will open up space for initiatives on legal migration. By seeing the reforms through, the EU has proven that its institutions are willing and capable of finding pragmatic solutions to serious questions. We must maintain this willingness and determination throughout the upcoming legislative periods for the Pact implementation to be successful and address other pending problems of our times.

Jan-Christoph Oetjen is a Member of the European Parliament in the Renew Europe Group and has served as Vice-President of the European Parliament since 2019.

This commentary is part of a new EPC series on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. To promote diverse and balanced discussions and inspire informed policy debates on the migration and asylum reforms, members of the European Parliament from different political groups were asked to share their views on how the reforms will help address some of the main political priorities ahead of the June 2024 European elections, as well as outline key challenges for the future.

This Commentary is part of the EPC's EP Elections Task Force.

Photo credits:

The latest from the EPC, right in your inbox
Sign up for our email newsletter
14-16 rue du Trône, 1000 Brussels, Belgium | Tel.: +32 (0)2 231 03 40
EU Transparency Register No. 
89632641000 47
Privacy PolicyUse of Cookies | Contact us | © 2019, European Policy Centre

edit afsluiten