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EU countries strike major deal on migration rules, delivering the first breakthrough in years

EU countries strike major deal on migration rules, delivering the first breakthrough in years

The countries of the European Union have reached a major agreement for the restructuring of migration and asylum policy in the bloc.

It represents the first breakthrough of its kind after years of division and bitter debate that pitted capitals against each other.

The agreement paves the way for the introduction of new rules for the collective management of reception and resettlement of asylum seekers. The EU received more than 962,000 asylum applications last year, the highest number since 2016.

The rules were put to a vote during a meeting of interior ministers in Luxembourg, which he preceded an atmosphere of optimism which seemed to increase the chances of a positive outcome.

But the talks turned out to be difficult and painstaking: the ministers and their deputies spent almost the whole day haggling over the smallest details and redoing the compromise texts.

Sweden, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council, has urged its fellow members to stay put and continue negotiations until a broad consensus is reached.

In the end, the new rules were accepted by a larger margin than expected.

Italy, a country on the frontline of declaring a state of emergency to deal with a surge in new arrivals, decided to vote yes. During the meeting, Rome’s position was seen as a deal maker that would secure a qualified majority.

“I wasn’t sure this day would come,” said Maria Malmer Stenergard, Sweden’s migration minister, celebrating the moment to applause from her colleagues. “This is a big day for us.”

The rules adopted on Thursday stem from the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, a holistic proposal presented by the European Commission back in September 2020.

The most innovative element of the pact is a system of “mandatory solidarity” that would give member states two main options in times of migration pressure.

  • Accept a certain number of resettled asylum seekers.
  • Pay for the return of rejected applicants to their country of origin.

The options are “of equal value” and give governments enough room to maneuver, Malmer Stenergaard said.

“We will have simpler, clearer and shorter procedures,” the minister pointed out.

This solidarity mechanism, along with new rules on border procedures, are two of the laws voted on Thursday.

According to the latest proposal drawn up by Sweden, the resettlement amount is set at 35,000 asylum seekers per year across the bloc, while the financial contribution is estimated to cost 20,000 euros for each rejected applicant.

The political agreement will now allow the EU Council to start negotiations with the European Parliament with the aim of finalizing the law before next year’s EU elections.

The ultimate goal is to end the ad-hoc mode of crisis management that has been in place since the 2015 migration crisis and has proven woefully inadequate to deal with a challenge that transcends national borders.

This article has been updated to include more details about the contract.

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