E.U. Migration Overhaul Clears Final Hurdle

A landmark bill set to overhaul migration policy across the European Union cleared its final hurdle on Wednesday after it was approved by the European Parliament.

The bill, which had taken the best part of the past decade to negotiate, aims to make it easier for member states to deport failed asylum seekers and to limit the entry of migrants into the bloc. It would also give governments greater control over their borders, while bolstering the bloc’s role in migration management — treating it as a European issue, not one member states have to face alone.

European officials and politicians had been intent on passing the legislation before E.U. elections in early June to counter anti-migrant sentiment that is fueling a rise in the popularity of far-right parties in several European nations. The final step for it to become law is an approval by the European Council, a formality, in coming weeks.

“We all understand this fundamental truth: Migration is a European challenge, which must be met with a European solution, one that is effective and both fair and firm,” said the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, soon after the Parliament voted.

The bill stipulates that rapid assessments of whether a person is eligible for asylum will take place at borders. And it will make it harder for asylum seekers to move on from the countries they arrive in.

A significant element in the bill lays out a process through which some asylum seekers who are judged to be unlikely to be successful would go through a fast-tracked asylum procedure at the border.

And an important part of the policy, known as the “solidarity mechanism,” will distribute migrants across the European Union. Most migrants arrive at border countries, such as Italy and Greece, but the new policy will distribute them based on a number of factors, such as population size and the existing number of migrants in any given country.

If a country does not want to take in migrants, it can instead opt to pay other nations for costs associated with housing and other services for migrants.

The draft bill’s approval by member states in December was celebrated as a triumph of pragmatism on a highly polarizing issue. A broad coalition of centrist European forces welcomed the deal as a palatable compromise at a time when anti-migrant sentiment was turbocharging ascendant far-right parties in several European countries.

E.U. politicians from center-left social democratic, liberal and mainstream conservative parties broadly supported the bill, saying that it sufficiently protected the right to asylum, while tightening borders, expediting asylum claims and making it easier to deport people who did not qualify for asylum.

Getting the legislation passed before the E.U. elections signals that the bloc has heeded voters’ concerns about a marked post-pandemic rise in arrivals by asylum seekers and economic migrants, while preserving what the bloc says are core values, such as respect for human rights.

In line with the E.U. process, the bill had already been extensively negotiated with representatives from the various parliamentary groups when it hit the Parliament floor on Wednesday. But the bill still faced opposition from the left and the right.

For parties with hard-line anti-migrant agendas, the legislation doesn’t go far enough in curbing the arrival of newcomers, while mainstream conservatives from Eastern Europe are still hostile to the part of the policy that will see migrants distributed across the European Union.

After the bill passed on Wednesday, Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland, a conservative, said his country would not accept relocated migrants under the new policy, a moot if politically charged point, as Poland would not be in line to receive any migrants anyway because it’s already hosting approximately two million Ukrainian refugees.

The bill has vocal critics on the left, too, with rights groups arguing that it does not adequately protect asylum seekers.

Echoing left-wing members of the Parliament, Amnesty International said in a statement that the new policy would lead to increased migrant suffering.

“For people escaping conflict, persecution or economic insecurity, these reforms will mean less protection and a greater risk of facing human rights violations across Europe — including illegal and violent pushbacks, arbitrary detention and discriminatory policing,” said Eve Geddie, the right group’s head in the European Union.

Another concern raised by nonpartisan migration experts is that the bill does not touch on a major factor behind the growing number of asylum requests: the absence of legal migration routes for skilled and unskilled laborers that are desperately needed in several European industries, including construction, manufacturing and agriculture.

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