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European Parliament agrees on stricter EU migration rules

April 10, 2024

Following years of debate, European Union lawmakers have passed a landmark reform of the bloc's asylum system to reduce irregular migration. The new rules are set to take effect in 2026.

The EU border at Croatia
The EU has been struggling for years to find an arrangement on migration that satisifies all of its membersImage: Elvis Barukcic/AFP/Getty Images

The European Parliament on Wednesday voted on sweeping reforms to the European Union's migration and asylum rules.

The new EU Asylum and Migration Pact aims to manage the impact of migration to the bloc by accelerating the rejection of invalid applications and by sharing the burden of processing asylum requests more evenly among member states.

The vote came after years of fierce debate between conservative and liberal lawmakers and northern and southern EU member states, and as EU asylum applications reached a seven-year high in 2023.

Johansson: EU member states 'eager to implement this'

How are European leaders responding?

Roberta Metsola, the president of the European Parliament, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the pact had been ten years in the making.

"History made. We have delivered a robust legislative framework on how to deal with migration and asylum in the EU," she said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the pact would increase efficiency in processing asylum applications. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hailed the deal as a "historic, indispensable" step, adding that it represented solidarity among European states in a tweet in German.

The pact "limits irregular migration and finally relieves the burden on the countries that are particularly badly affected," he wrote.

The changes to the EU's asylum system still need to be confirmed by member state ministers, possibly by late April, before it can enter into force in 2026. Member states signing off, however, is seen as a formality. 

What are the changes?

Under the new system, migrants illegally entering the EU will undergo identity, health and security checks, including biometric readings of faces and fingerprints, within seven days.

The procedure aims to determine which migrants should receive an accelerated or normal asylum application process, and which ones should be sent back to their country of origin or transit.

Children are to receive special treatment, with countries obliged to install independent monitoring mechanisms to ensure rights are upheld.

Asylum-seekers from countries whose nationals' applications are generally rejected — such as Tunisia, Morocco and Bangladesh, for example — are to be fast-tracked in detention centers close to the EU's external borders, enabling them to be deported quicker.

The controversial centers, located at land borders, ports and airports, will be able to house up to 30,000 people at any period, with the EU expecting up to 120,000 migrants to pass through them annually.

Critics, however, fear that such border facilities could encourage systematic detention and undermine human rights.

EU agrees sweeping immigration reforms

The plan was drawn up after 1.3 million people, mostly those fleeing war in Syria and Iraq, sought refuge in Europe in 2015. The EU's asylum system collapsed, with reception centers in Greece and Italy becoming overwhelmed.

Shared responsibility on migration 

The political key to winning support for the proposals is reform to the EU's so-called "Dublin III" mechanism which determines which member state is responsible for processing any individual asylum application.

Generally, the European country in which an asylum-seeker first arrives has been responsible for handling their case, placing a greater strain on southern countries such as Italy, Greece and Malta.

Under the new rules, the "first-country" principle will remain but additional measures including a "mandatory solidarity mechanism" would oblige other member states to shoulder a fairer share of the burden.

If other member states are unwilling or unable to physically host asylum-seekers while their cases are being processed, they can assist financially or by providing extra personnel.

At least 30,000 asylum-seekers a year are expected to come under this relocation system. An annual financial compensation of €600 million ($650 million) would be fixed for those preferring to pay instead of host.

European Parliament backs big EU migration reform

Criticism from Hungary, Poland

Soon after the vote passed, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that his government would "protect" Poland from the migrant relocation mechanism.

"We will find ways so that even if the migration pact comes into force in roughly unchanged form, we will protect Poland against the relocation mechanism," Tusk told reporters.

"I have certain possibilities to build alliances and the mechanism of relocation or paying for not taking in [migrants] ... will certainly not apply to Poland," said Tusk, a former European Council chief.

Although Tusk's governing alliance is largely pro-EU, it maintains criticism of the EU's migration reform.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban wrote on X formerly Twitter, that the pact was a "nail in the coffin" for the EU.

"Secure borders are no more, Hungary will never give in to the mass migration frenzy," Orban wrote. 

rm,ab,mf/wmr (AFP, dpa)