After nearly a decade of deadlock, and 12 hours of crunch talks in Luxembourg, a compromise proposal by EU ministers for a new immigration policy has received a mixed reception across the continent.
The new asylum and migration management regulation, on the table since the 2015 refugee crisis, will change how asylum seekers are processed at the EU’s borders and how they are relocated across Europe.
EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson praised as a “great, great achievement” the proposal to replace the so-called Dublin regulations, deemed dysfunctional.
But Germany’s ruling Greens have dubbed a “disgrace” a plan for detainment facilities at the EU’s outer borders for asylum seekers from countries with low approval averages of asylum applications.
The proposals also give member states greater leeway in deciding which countries they view as “safe”, allowing them to refuse asylum seekers from those countries. Another proposal will see countries accept a fixed quota of migrants – or pay €20,000 (£17,200) for each person the country declines to accept.
Poland criticised these payments as “fines” and indicated it would not support a deal it viewed as “impossible to implement and damaging”.
Warsaw estimates it has taken in 1.6 million people from neighbouring Ukraine – including 25,000 new arrivals on Wednesday – but has been reluctant to accept people from Afghanistan, Syria or further afield.
Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban, long a critic of immigration into the EU, called the deal “unacceptable” while Bulgaria, Lithuania, Malta and Slovakia abstained from the Luxembourg vote.
As the plans go to the European Parliament, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Piantedosi said the deal was a “beginning, we are not arriving; we are setting off”.
Italy has been at the front line of the migration crisis and held out for a tougher deal with real burden-sharing across the EU. He insisted that, with this new rulebook, “Italy will not be the reception centre of migrants on behalf of Europe”.
While Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal vowed to push for more changes in the negotiations ahead, Berlin’s interior minister Nancy Faeser defended the compromise reached as “not easy but historic”.
Germany was determined to secure an exception to keep families together, but gave up that position. While her centre-left Social Democratic Party are uneasy about the compromise reached, its Green coalition partner is split – from rank and file right up to party leadership.
“This deal will not ease the suffering at EU borders and not create more order,” said Ms Ricarda Lang, Green Party co-leader. “Germany should not have agreed to this deal.”
But her party co-leader Omid Nouripour disagreed, calling the deal a “necessary step to move forward in Europe”.
In Brussels, Green MEPs and others predicted most member states will simply declare Turkey and Egypt, traditional transit countries, as safe – allowing them to refuse asylum applications in huge numbers.
Amid a growing wave of asylum seekers across the continent, Austria’s conservative chancellor Karl Nehammer – with far-right populists breathing down his neck at home – promised to maintain a tough line in the next stage of talks.
“We need a complete reform,” he said, “to repair the failed asylum policies of the EU in the last years”.
But his Europe minister Alma Zadic, also a Green politician, said “the last word has not been spoken” on asylum exceptions for families and children. She predicted “the European Parliament will have quite a bit to say here”.