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Panel discussion: Managing asylum and migration together European migration policy needs a fresh start

A fresh start is needed for European migration policy. This was the consensus view of the participants in the panel discussion entitled Managing asylum and migration together that formed part of the High-level Interparliamentary Conference on Migration and Asylum in Europe, held on Thursday, 19 November 2020. This was why the European Commission had proposed a new Pact on Migration and Asylum, said Dr Ursula von Leyen, President of the Commission. The core aims of the proposal, she said, were more cooperation with countries of origin and transit, faster as well as legally certain asylum procedures and scope for migration into the EU. The programme was welcomed by the President of the European Parliament, David-Maria Sassoli, as well as by the President of the Bundestag, Dr Wolfgang Schäuble. Professor António Vitorino, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration, also had great expectations of the pact, as he indicated during the discussion, chaired by journalist Shada Islam. Like Dr Schäuble, Professor Vitorino emphasised that the success of the planned border asylum procedures would depend on the effectiveness of the system for returning and reintegrating those who were not entitled to remain in the EU.

Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble stresses the maritime rescue obligation

Dr Schäuble was very clear in his commitment to the duty of maritime rescue. “Otherwise we need no longer talk of European values”. This duty, however, also played into the hands of cynical criminal people-smugglers, he cautioned. “We must show that we are able to take back quickly those who come to Europe for reasons other than to seek refuge and asylum and not create inappropriate incentives”, said Schäuble. “If necessary”, he added, “even in centres outside the European Union, but then we must also ensure that there are decent living conditions in those places”.

There was a need for swift decisions on asylum applications, said Dr Schäuble, which was something that had not been achieved in connection with the Turkey-EU Pact. The Union had been unable, he said, to return unsuccessful asylum-seekers to Turkey. Yet that was important if people-smuggling were to be suppressed. In future, Member States that felt unable to take such swift decisions should hand over that responsibility to the EU, suggested the President of the Bundestag.

President von der Leyen on the need to create legal scope for migration

Swift procedures are also favoured by the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. Anyone who is granted asylum must be welcomed and successfully integrated, she urged. Those with no entitlement to international protection, however, must return home. Another important step, she said, was EU-wide coordinated cooperation with countries of origin. That included the creation of legal scope for migration. According to Dr von der Leyen, in future the Blue Card should enable not only highly skilled but also low-skilled individuals to enter Europe legally.

European Parliament President David-Maria Sassoli highlights Europe’s common responsibility with regard to asylum and migration

The President of the European Parliament referred to Europe’s common responsibility in the realm of asylum and migration. It was not an Italian or Greek or Cypriot or Maltese issue, Mr Sassoli emphasised. He also referred to the moral obligation to rescue people in distress at sea. At the same time, European police authorities must cooperate better in order to combat criminal human- trafficking organisations. He also spoke in favour of opening legal migration channels “on the basis of what our labour markets need”.

Deviation from fixed relocation quotas contested

Although there was agreement on many aspects of the planned new arrangement, some points were still liable to fuel disputes. One such point was the European Commission’s proposal for a deviation from fixed relocation quotas. The proposal provides for a system of flexible contributions from member states. These range from relocating asylum seekers from the country of first arrival to assuming responsibility for returning persons with no right to remain as well as to various forms of operational assistance. Dr Schäuble considered this to be a useful system. The binding relocation quota, in his view, was an attempt to achieve European solidarity that was doomed to failure from the start. Too little consideration, he said, had been given to the fact “that each of our member states has its very own experiences and a unique social and cultural background, which we must respect”. In his view, “If we all accept that this is a communal task, the contributions made by individual member states can certainly be more flexible”.

During the question-and-answer session, on the other hand, Italian Member of Parliament Pietro Lorefice made clear that, in his opinion, it would be better to abide by the principle of binding relocation quotas and to show more solidarity in support of countries of first arrival, which were currently being left on their own to discharge their responsibility. Mr Sassoli expressed sympathy with this position, adding that the aim of the European Parliament was to return to a system of compulsory relocation.

In the view of Spanish Member of Parliament Ana Botella, the planned measures of solidarity with countries of first arrival were very patchy. The European Commission, she said, was focusing on five countries. In this way, the Pact might further exacerbate the imbalance between responsibility and solidarity, she warned, because it was not realistic.

President von der Leyen took a different view. There was actually a good balance, she said. The need for solidarity was imperative. No member state was free to choose whether or not it wished to practise solidarity, she emphasised. Member states could, however, choose how to practise it.

A permanent solution on migration and asylum rather than stopgaps

Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola called for a transition from stopgaps to a permanent solution on migration and asylum. These issues had to be addressed, she said, without succumbing to populism and scapegoating individual groups, said Ms Metsola, who is a Vice-President of the European Parliament.

German MEP Jan-Christoph Oetjen said that the Pact looked good at first sight, particularly with regard to faster asylum procedures. Care must, however, be taken to ensure, he said, that member states made enough resources available for its implementation. In addition, he believed that clear rules were needed for labour migration.

In the view of Austrian MEP Bettina Vollath, Europe had “learned nothing” from the refugee crisis of 2015. For years, she said, people who had no interest at all in a practicable solution “based on solidarity and on our European values” had been allowed to set the agenda. The “devastating consequences” of this policy were huge death tolls in the Mediterranean, violence, misery and illegal push-backs at the external borders.

Anne Spiegel (Alliance 90/The Greens) Minister of Family Affairs, Women, Youth, Integration and Consumer Protection in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, representing the Bundesrat, called for a significant extension of humanitarian reception programmes. There was also a need, she said, for legal access channels for low-skilled persons from non-EU countries. (hau/19 November 2020)

The report on the second session of the High-level Interparliamentary Conference on Migration and Asylum in Europe can be read here.

Recording of the High-level Interparliamentary Conference on Migration and Asylum in Europe on 19 November 2020

00:03:59

Film of the "High-Level Interparliamentary Conference on migration and asylum in Europe"

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Recording of the High-level Interparliamentary Conference on Migration and Asylum in Europe on 19 November 2020

00:03:59

Film of the "High-Level Interparliamentary Conference on migration and asylum in Europe"

00:01:04

Andrea Lindholz at the "High-Level Interparliamentary Conference on migration and asylum in Europe"

00:01:43

Lars Castellucci at the "High-Level Interparliamentary Conference on migration and asylum in Europe"

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