EU home affairs ministers negotiated a historic migration agreement in which EU governments would pay €20,000 for each migrant they refused to accept.
Swedish immigration minister Maria Malmer Stenergard, who presided over the negotiations, called the majority accord a “historic step” that might end years of bitter differences over the EU’s immigration and refugee policies, Euractiv reported.
“I didn’t 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,” stated Malmer Stenergard.
The deal was a “historic decision on two complicated and sensitive files,” according to EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johannson. At the same time, she added that the process had been a “marathon.”
The accord came after demands for ‘mandatory relocation’ of migrants from frontline nations, including Italy, Greece, and Malta, was dropped in favour of a €20,000 cash payment for each migrant that a member state says it cannot accommodate.
According to EU officials, the contributions will go into a shared EU fund overseen by the Commission to finance projects targeted at addressing the core causes of migration.
A new system for redistributing migrants will also be devised, with meaningful quotas on how many people frontline nations must process before requesting assistance.
Governments would also be expected to process migrant applications within six months rather than the 15 months planned.
In other news, ministers agreed to give national governments the authority to define a ‘safe’ country to which unsuccessful asylum seekers and economic migrants can be sent rather than compromising on unified EU norms. They will be required to demonstrate a ‘connection’ with the return country.
Still, diplomats have suggested that this could allow countries such as Italy, whose Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has prioritized migration control, to transfer migrants to Tunisia and other North African countries.
The ministers’ agreement does not indicate that the two issues are settled. MEPs in the European Parliament continue to call for compulsory relocation. Johansson stated that she was “convinced” that a solution could be reached with members of the European Parliament.
However, the compromise did not receive unanimous approval. Bartosz Grodecki, a Polish minister, announced at the opening of the meeting that his government would refuse to pay EU “fines” for not receiving people.
Poland welcomed more than one million refugees who fled Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in February 2022.
Only Hungary, probably the EU government with the most excellent anti-migrant position, joined Poland in opposing the agreement, leaving a “very solid qualified majority,” as Stenergard described it.
On the other hand, Germany was among the EU states that had hoped for the bloc to be more ambitious, and Berlin’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, did nothing to hide her disappointment.
The deal “creates a perspective to end the unspeakable suffering at the EU’s external borders,” said Baerbock in a statement.
“The bitter part of the compromise is the border procedures at the external border for people from countries with a low recognition rate. Without these border procedures, however, no one but Germany would have participated in the distribution mechanism,” stated Baerbock.
Plans to reform the EU’s asylum procedures started in 2015, when more than a million migrants, mainly fleeing Syria’s civil war, arrived in the EU via the Mediterranean.