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Migration pact will only deepen EU divisions

The EU has failed to achieve a consensus on immigration. Credit: Getty

April 12, 2024 - 7:00am

Roberta Metsola, the President of the European Parliament, was in a celebratory mood following the successful passage of the EU’s asylum and migration pact on Wednesday. “History made,” she declared, adding that the new legislation will create “a balance between solidarity and responsibility. This is the European way.”

In reality, the package appears more likely to deepen divisions over migration than to heal them. Driven through the European Parliament in a series of tight votes, the legislation, hashed out after years of wrangling by the EU’s centrist forces, is more an attempt to neutralise the political potency of migration ahead of upcoming EU parliamentary elections than an effective step towards finding consensus on this thorniest of issues.

The pact contains a raft of common-sense measures relating to security and processing of asylum seekers, but its central plank — the most contentious issue in EU migration policy — is “solidarity”, the bloc’s euphemism for migrant relocation between member states. Countries on the EU’s external borders are desperate for migrants to be transported elsewhere, but have faced unbending opposition from those nations most fearful — and until now least impacted — by the cultural and social effects of mass migration, in particular the “Visegrád Four” of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The new legislation attempts to end this stand-off by replacing mandatory relocation with a “voluntary” scheme, in which unwilling countries make financial contributions of €20,000 for each migrant they refuse to take in. It’s thought these contributions may help finance deals being made with countries in North Africa and elsewhere to help reduce migration flows to Europe. In practice, it means institutionalising a system of financial punishment for EU countries which refuse to accept their share of migrants.

Visegrád countries are now up in arms about the new pact. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán called it “another nail in the coffin of the European Union”. Even Donald Tusk, the pro-EU Polish Prime Minister who is busy undoing much of his predecessors’ work in defying the EU, has called migrant relocation “unacceptable”. “We will find ways so that even if the migration pact comes into force in a roughly unchanged form, we will protect Poland against the relocation mechanism,” Tusk pledged.

The leader of the surging Czech populist opposition, Andrej Babiš, criticised the migration pact for containing “hidden refugee quotas”, adding that “illegal migration threatens the security of all of Europe, it threatens our values and our way of life.” Czech MEPs from across the political spectrum voted against the pact, while governments in both Hungary and Slovakia vowed not to change their stance on migrant relocation; Budapest has promised not to take in illegal immigrants “regardless of any migration pact”.

Added to the intransigence of these key states is stern criticism from Right-wing parties elsewhere on the continent: for example, France’s National Rally president Jordan Bardella called the pact “terrible”. And on the other side, Amnesty International, joined a chorus of NGOs urging MEPs not to endorse the pact, saying it will cause a “surge in suffering” for asylum seekers.

Under fire from all sides, the pact clearly fails to reduce the political potency of migration. Faith that the EU finally has a grip on the issue is hardly boosted by the defeatist claim from the head of European Union border force Frontex that “nothing” can stop mass migration to Europe — “no wall, no fence, no sea, no river”. New EU legislation has been a long time coming, but consensus on how to deal with mass migration appears, if anything, further away than ever.


William Nattrass is a British journalist based in Prague and news editor of Expats.cz

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Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago

A skeptic might suggest that this “pact” is purely a ruse by the EU Commission to be able to pretend that the wonderful EU project can control immigration on behalf of its member states.
A combination of window-dressing and yet another power grab.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Never let a crisis go to waste, eh?

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Something they’ve been working on since 2015 so not a quick electoral stunt cobbled together at last minute. But almost certainly the coming EU elections focused minds. So long as the Policy response well considered and responding with action to a sense of public opinion that’s a good thing isn’t it? True though that the test will be in delivery.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago

I honestly don’t know why the Visegrad 4 are getting so crazy about this. If anything, it’s just for show because any migrants that are told to go there will either refuse because it’s not their preferred location (and if you can’t stop people getting into the EU, how do you propose moving them around the EU against their will?) or will just clear off again within a week or two (to Germany, mostly).
Well I’ve given up on any hope that this will get sorted out. I still like living in Austria but there are lots of big migration-associated problems brewing. I live 10 minutes’ walk away from the new Stabbing Central of the republic, and, yes, the perpetrators are largely from the critical demographic of illegal immigrants. In terms of my personal safety, I don’t feel any more fear moving around the city: compared to London, it’s nothing. But it could change and my ability to move around in safety as a woman on my own is a big priority. It’s a highly sensitive point for me.
My solution? I’m busy learning Czech so I can up sticks and go there if/when Austria turns into Sweden. CZ is unlikely to ever be a target country for illegal immigrants.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

CZ is unlikely to ever be a target country for illegal immigrants

I’m not so sure…
Minimum Wage Czech Republic: 6,888 Euros per year
Average wage Nigeria: 2,028 Euros per year
Unemployment rate Czech Republic: 3.9%
Unemployment rate Nigeria: 31.7%
Population Czech Republic: 10M
Population Nigeria: 218M
Birth Rate Czech Republic: 1.8 children per woman
Birth Rate Nigeria: 5.24 children per woman

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

If it was going to be a target country, it would be already. But CZ gets a handful of asylum applications per month compared to the thousands that go to Austria and Germany. (Ukrainians don’t count in this, as they go through a different system.)
If all the existing target countries say “we’re not taking any more”, CZ and friends would simply follow suit and you would have a pan EU asylum stop before any kind of cascade dynamic sets in.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

TBH this migration has only just started …as the 1974 sociologists Bachman and Turner said in their seminal work published that year:
“You ain’t seen nothing yet
B-b-b-baby, you just ain’t seen n-n-n-nothin’ yet”

j watson
j watson
1 month ago

Even the Far Right and the more daft Left dislike it then chances are it’s quite sensible.
Individual politicians, likes of Tusk etc, will have to reassure their populace whilst also likely supporting the EU Parliament. Hardly unique is it that a politician has to play slightly different emphasis to different audiences. The Pact gives option to ‘pay’ rather than ‘take’ too.
Author is correct though the Pact will show whether EU can really act in solidarity on a critical issue. The frontline States – Italy, Greece, Spain etc, will be watching closer how their more Northern partners react. So it is a critical moment for sure.
The Author doesn’t allude to what he or others might see as alternatives. The ‘tide’ is not going to stop quickly. So ranting about it, and being isolationist simply wasting time. Who’d blame the front line Nations too for just helping any migrants through quickly to the next border if they don’t get solidarity (And UK should really want to be 3rd party to the Pact as otherwise who’d blame the French for allowing even more Boats)
The Pact also says claims with “low chances of being accepted” should be examined rapidly, without necessarily admitting the applicant into EU territory. Good. A 12wk turnaround also good – includes forcible return. Obviously ‘forcible’ not easy esp if no diplomatic relations with that Country. You can’t land a plane in a country full of migrants without agreement. But common push to be more forceful is good.
Toughened pre-entry screening procedure within 7 days, including identification, biometric data and health and security checks all good too. As well as the expansion of Frontex.
There is no magic bullet here. The causes of people movement are numerous. But it seems a decent package in the right direction.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

It will fail and further accelerate Europe into her Afro/Islamic future. Turn the boats around. Push them back.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
1 month ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Belgium is a complete basket case of a country… You’d think once in a while, von der Leyen would just look out of her window and see what’s going on.
But they pretend to see nothing because they don’t live in it every day.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
1 month ago

It is demonstrably only the Visegrad nations in the EU who care more about their own people than the wellbeing of migrants.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

I really feel for the migrants, but we, the U.S., can’t take the world into our country. We have migrants from Mexico, Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, especially China and Russia. The West is running out of water, so what’s going to happen when tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of migrants settle there. The South is hostile and racist, and the rest of the country is unaffordable. (Maine and Vermont are very rural and have few jobs.) I don’t have the answer to the masses trying to get to the U.S. or Europe, but they are overwhelming our borders.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

So they have created yet another financial incentive for migration..and 20000 euro is a lot of money. We see in ireland at least that the migrant is a type of cash cow for businesses that get juicy government contracts. Now every migrant that shows up in Spain etc is potentially worth 20000 to the Spanish government. That seems like an incentive to me

carl taylor
carl taylor
1 month ago

The only hope for the Visegrád countries to secure their borders, protect their culture and defend the interests and security of their citizens will eventually be to leave the EU. Hopefully, when they do, they won’t be led by donkeys.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

It’s easy to stop if you want to. Patrol the N African coast and take them back. Keep doing it. It will stop.