Unexpectedly, five southern countries of the European Union this week agreed that the EU should strengthen the powers of the EASO asylum agency. Although it is only a small step forward, in the complex negotiations on future migration and asylum policy, this also means a breakthrough.
These southern states — Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Italy, and Malta — through which most illegal migrants come into the European Union, have, so far, refused to disperse the “migration pact” proposed by the European Commission and advocated that it should be approved as a whole. Portugal, which holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, expects that following the revision of the regulation on EASO, the Eurodac agreement on the collection and sharing of biometric data of migrants and asylum seekers could get strengthened.
At the first personal meeting in Luxembourg after a long time, interior ministers of the EU member states discussed the “migration pact” in detail for the first time but did not report any signs of agreement. It means that Portugal will not fulfill its commitment to approve the proposed package or, at least, make significant progress in the negotiations. On July 1, it will hand over the presidency to Slovenia. In the meantime, however, this “toxic” topic will be discussed at the top level at the end of June. The leaders of the EU countries will address it at the request of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on June 24 in Brussels for the first time since 2019.
It is Draghi who seems to be behind the more flexible stance of the “buffer” countries, which have apparently decided to allow at least some progress by agreeing to proceed step by step. According to diplomats quoted by Politico, a condition known as the “sunrise clause” was mentioned. It would mean that a series of small agreements would be concluded, but they would not come into force until after the last one in line has been agreed.
If this is the way, it would be at least better than the current inactivity. Southern countries, as well as the European Commission, are well aware of the growing number of migrants arriving in recent months.
According to Frontex, 42,700 illegal migrants came to the EU from the beginning of the year till the end of May, about a third more than last year. So far, this is not a dramatic number, all the more so as last year, at the time of the pandemic, only a minimum of people crossed the Union’s borders in this way.
Frontex saw the largest increases in the Canary Islands (90 percent), the so-called Western Balkans route (85 percent), and the Central Mediterranean route, leading from Libya and Tunisia to the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Sicily. Overall, 14,700 migrants used the last route, half as many as at the same time the year before. Only 5,400 refugees came from Turkey to the Greek islands, which, according to Frontex, indicates that the Turkish border guard is fulfilling its tasks.
Title image: Migrants are surrounded by Spanish police near the border of Morocco and Spain, at the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)