EU countries will be able to fund the return of migrants from Europe to their home countries instead of taking in refugees, under a new European Commission migration policy unveiled today.
The move is seen as a response to years of division in the EU over migration policy, in the wake of the 2015 influx of over one million refugees and migrants.
The German-backed pact will take in all 27 EU Member States which will either agree to take in asylum seekers or take charge of sending back those refused asylum.
Head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen described the pact as a "European solution ... to restore citizens' confidence".
She added that the pact would "rebuild trust between Member States" and strike the "right balance between solidarity and responsibility".
Southern European countries such as Italy and Greece have said wealthier northern countries don’t do enough to handle the influx, while Central and Eastern European nations have resisted taking in migrants.
The new pact wants a "fair sharing of responsibility and solidarity between Member States while providing certainty for individual applicants".
It will involve:
- New compulsory pre-entry screening involving health, identity and security checks,
- A faster asylum border process involving decisions within 12 weeks and swift returns for failed applicants,
- The EU's 27 countries would have "flexible options" for how to take part, so countries such as Hungary and Poland that have refused to take in arrivals in the past would be asked to help in different ways, such as financially "sponsoring" returns,
- Each State would be legally required to contribute their "fair share" – based half on GDP, and half on population size.
The new pact is also designed to replace the long-standing ‘Dublin rule’, which requires asylum claims to be handled in the EU country first entered.
Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said the old regulation was designed for a few people fleeing dictatorships, and not today's reality.
However, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson says "no-one will be satisfied" with the new measures.
“But I think we would have 27 member states and parliament that would say it's worth working on this,” she added.
The number of people arriving is about 55,000 this year and only a minority are refugees.
"In 2015, we had 1.8 million irregular arrivals and the majority were refugees," she said.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that the pact would not work and its government has said the EU's external borders should "remain perfectly sealed along all sections".
An EU Commission statement said "This is crucial for rebuilding trust between Member States and confidence in the capacity of the European Union to manage migration.
"Migration is a complex issue, with many facets that need to be weighed together. The safety of people who seek international protection or a better life, the concerns of countries at the EU's external borders, which worry that migratory pressures will exceed their capacities and which need solidarity from others.
"Or the concerns of other EU Member States, which are concerned that, if procedures are not respected at the external borders, their own national systems for asylum, integration or return will not be able to cope in the event of large flows.
"The current system no longer works. And for the past five years, the EU has not been able to fix it.
"The EU must overcome the current stalemate and rise up to the task. With the new Pact on Migration and Asylum, the Commission proposes common European solutions to a European challenge.
"The EU must move away from ad-hoc solutions and put in place a predictable and reliable migration management system.