The current migration and asylum policies of the European Union are not fit for purpose, have led to monstrous aberrations such as the Mória refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos described by the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières as “the worst on earth” in 2018 and burned down amid protests by inmates two years later.
This much is undisputed in the European Parliament, and there was general relief when the European Commission put forward a raft of new proposals in the European Migration Pact a year ago.
On Tuesday, the first two legislative proposals taken up as reports by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), were presented together for the first time.
Swedish centre-right MEP Tomas Tobé’s report deals with the EU’s asylum and migration management in general, while French liberal MEP Fabienne Keller’s “common procedure for international protection in the Union” is concerned more specifically with arrangements at the EU’s external borders.
Setting the tone, Tobé told committee members that “we need to find a way where we can act collectively and directly to have a common migration management, which upholds the principles of solidarity and a fair sharing of responsibility.”
His big idea is that, to unblock the Member State political deadlock in the European Council, the EU needs to abandon the mandatory relocation of refugees, acknowledge the complete rejection of this principle by certain Member States, and replace it with “a mandatory solidarity mechanism that allows for flexible options”.
Setting the tone, Tobé told committee members that “we need to find a way where we can act collectively and directly to have a common migration management, which upholds the principles of solidarity and a fair sharing of responsibility”
However, it wasn’t so much this idea, which reflects the current political reality and is clearly the way forward in some way or other, which caused the political groups’ shadow rapporteurs to give the report a rather frosty reception.
For the S&D, Pietro Bartolo, who not only hails from one of the most frontline places of migration movements, the Italian island of Lampedusa but, as a doctor, had examined and cared for about 250,000 refugees there until he joined the European Parliament in 2019, put it bluntly: “Our priorities, and Parliament’s priorities have not been taken into consideration so, we can’t support this proposal.”
Bartolo pointed to a grievance that almost all other shadow rapporteurs following him would share: that neither the Commission proposal nor Tobé’s report have suggested a fundamental reform of the Dublin Regulation.
That controversial EU law stipulates that only the country in which an asylum seeker first applies for asylum is responsible for either accepting or rejecting the claim, putting enormous pressure on front line Member States, in the absence of Union-wide solidarity.
Fabienne Keller, the Renew Group’s shadow for this report, was a bit more diplomatic, mentioning positive points first such as “the improvement of migrant flows between Member States”, the “greater sharing of information between them” and suggested efforts to “pre-empt migratory pressure by introducing a new mechanism to assess risks”.
But the former mayor of Strasbourg was less impressed by some of Tobé’s amendments which, in her view, “would weaken the solidarity mechanism proposed by the Commission, and would strengthen first entry criteria”, in other words, cement the untenable Dublin Regulation.
For the Greens/EFA Group, Damien Carême, like his S&D colleague, has an impressive back story when it comes to the issue at hand.
“Our priorities, and Parliament’s priorities have not been taken into consideration so, we can’t support this proposal” Pietro Bartolo MEP (IT, S&D)
As mayor of Grande-Synthe near Calais, he worked with Médecins Sans Frontières on the first purpose-built camp in France providing humanitarian-standard shelter for 2500 refugees, after the French government had evacuated the shambolic Camp de la Lande refugee camp known as the “Jungle of Calais” in 2016.
He accused the rapporteur of not having listened to the NGO representatives during the hearings in preparation of the report, with the result that it now “doesn’t fill the Commission’s gaps, it worsens them.”
Carême referred to the 2017 Dublin Regulation reform report by former Swedish liberal MEP Cecilia Wikström as the proper yardstick to use when it came to Parliament’s position - it is now, of course, part of the legislation stuck in Council.
Like his S&D colleague before him, he asked for an extension of the deadline for the submission of amendments.
Perhaps less obviously, this demand was then also taken up by the ID’s shadow Annalisa Tardino (IT), if for different points of disagreement, except the need to replace the Dublin Regulation.
And the deadline extension even provided for an agreement between the far right and the far left.
Speaking for the Left Group, Cornelia Ernst was “shocked” by the report because “everything that was half decent in the Commission report, and there wasn’t very much of it, you removed”, she told Tomas Tobé. It was now time, the German MEP concluded, to “look again at the report calmly”.
Chairing the session, Maite Pagazaurtundúa (ES, Renew) promised to take the matter of a deadline extension to the LIBE secretariat.
By contrast, Fabienne Keller’s report did not attract the kind of criticism from the shadows.
Hers is, as she stated, generally in support of the Commissions’ proposals but has included amendments for more and better provisions for the centres holding and processing refugees because “what we don’t want is another Mória.”
Keller suggests the complete financing of those centres by the EU budget as a concrete expression of solidarity of the Union with the frontline Member States.
The reports are expected to come before plenary next spring.