Wednesday 5/12/21
ASYLUM REFORM

EU ministers' meeting on migration ends without concrete results

EU members with external borders argue that the bloc's asylum rules should be updated to share the burden of arriving asylum seekers while other states are reluctant to do so. 
Finland was represented at the meeting by Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto (R) and State Secretary Olli-Poika Parviainen. Photo: Twitter/@FinlandinEU.
Finland was represented by Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto (R) and State Secretary Olli-Poika Parviainen. Photo: Twitter/@FinlandinEU.

The EU's foreign and home affairs ministers convened on Monday in search for some common ground on a future migration pact - but failed to produce any tangible results or progress.

The 27 EU countries are at loggerheads over how to manage migration into the bloc, including who should deal with asylum applications and how to pursue non-EU countries to take back migrants that the bloc deems ineligible to stay.

Finland was represented by Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto and State Secretary Olli-Poika Parviainen.

The European Commission presented a proposal for a migration pact in September, but there have been no concrete moves towards turning it into law so far.

EU members with external borders argue that the bloc's asylum rules should be updated to share the burden of arriving asylum seekers while other states are reluctant to do so. Under current rules, the first state of entry generally has to deal with the applications.

Complicating things further, there are not only disagreements between countries, but also between home affairs and foreign ministers: Foreign ministers highlight cooperation with non-EU countries, while home affairs ministers insist on security issues linked to migration.

“The political, economic and social developments in our neighbouring countries also have a direct impact on the stability and security of the EU. Equal and sustainable partnerships with the countries of origin and transit are therefore needed to promote the EU’s objectives and also to influence the root causes of forced migration,” said Foreign Minister Haavisto before the meeting. 

“We need a broader dialogue with our partner countries, and migration issues should be discussed as part of the EU’s overall relations with third countries. To be a credible partner, we also urgently need to advance the finalisation of the reform on the EU asylum system by resolving the issues that divide the Member States,” State Secretary Parviainen noted.

During the virtual meeting - dubbed a "jumbo" summit owing to its size, with 54 ministers attending - the politicians discussed how to shape relations with non-EU countries.

It was the first such summit in six years, the last of which took place after the Lampedusa migration crisis.

Carrot and stick

Before the meeting, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said cooperation with non-EU countries should include both carrot and stick.

One tactic could be to pressure countries through visa policy, such as making applications more difficult, more expensive or lengthier.

But according to Maas, positive incentives should also be on the table. This could take the form of promising funds, for example.

For Maas, one primary focal point should be North Africa, owing to the routes many undocumented migrants take when attempting to reach the bloc.

But there was no one-size-fits-all approach, he said. Instead, the bloc should take tailored solutions to each country, taking into account the respective economic and political situations.

Win-win partnerships

Echoing the sentiment after the meeting, Commission Executive Vice President Margaritis Schinas said a proposal by the commission to invest in tailor-made, "win-win partnerships" with key countries had been well received.

"We are ready to mobilize everything the European Union has at its disposal," he said, adding this could take the form of visas, investments, policies, and even Erasmus scholarships.

But while the ministers broadly agreed on Monday that a tailor-made approach was necessary for each country, other, much more disputed issues remain.

According to Portuguese Minister of Internal Administration Eduardo Cabrita, whose country holds the rotating EU Council Presidency, the ministers had only debated the first of three broad divisions of the bloc's migration policy, namely the external dimension.

While the ministers came to no concrete agreements or commitments in that area on Monday, the governments also still have to tackle the politically sensitive issues of how to share responsibility and how much solidarity between EU countries should be mandatory.

According to EU sources, the opinions are currently too far apart to make concrete progress any time soon.

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