By Gabriela Baczynska
BRUSSELS, Sept 28 (Reuters) – The European Union’s migration ministers meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss how to handle migrants arriving by sea as Italy and Germany worry over increased immigration, with Berlin launching border controls inside Europe’s zone of open travel.
The ministers will have another go at agreeing a long-stalled mechanism to share out asylum seekers who reach Europe beyond regular border posts, and discuss whether the 27-nation bloc should seek a deal with Egypt to prevent more people from embarking from the southern shores of the Mediterranean.
Critics have said a recent such agreement with Tunisia falls short on human rights but more potential deals are on the cards as Rome sounds alarm over Lampedusa arrivals topping those in 2022 when Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni won national elections on an anti-immigration ticket.
“There is a lot of unrest in (the) direct neighbourhood of Europe,” said one senior EU diplomat. “As to whether we should or should not have more such agreements, the answer is most likely going to be a ‘yes’ from a majority around the table.”
Higher arrivals, looming elections put migration high on agenda
Focus is on Germany and whether Interior Minister Nancy Faeser brings a coalition deal to Brussels that would allow Berlin to back the so-called “crisis mechanism” for distributing refugees and migrants in the bloc to avoid overwhelming Italy and other countries of first entry.
On Wednesday, Faeser announced border checks with neighbouring Poland and the Czech Republic after Germany saw a nearly-80% rise in asylum requests so far this year, a concern for the centre-left ruling coalition facing a challenge from the far-right in local elections in Bavaria next month.
Such controls inside what should normally be the EU’s zone of open travel highlight how difficulties in handling those fleeing wars and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and south Asia challenge cooperation inside the bloc.
Today agreement on migrant pact possible – Johansson
European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson has expressed optimism that EU interior ministers will reach a final agreement on new rules for migration management within the bloc at a home affairs council meeting in Brussels on Thursday.
“Progress has been made and I am optimistic that an agreement can be found today on the last tranche of the Migration Pact,” Johansson told reporters before the start.
“Afterwards we can begin the trialogues,” she added, referring to the interinstitutional negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission for the adoption of EU legislation.
“As with other chapters of the Pact there was tension at the beginning, but in the end we succeeded in managing” an agreement, said Johansson.
Proposed by the European Commission in 2020, the New Pact on Migration and Asylum aims to create a fairer, more efficient and more sustainable migration and asylum process for the European Union, with an emphasis on solidarity and responsibility sharing among member states.
Some propose Egypt for next migration deal after Tunisia
The EU has been pushing tougher anti-immigration policies since more than a million people reached its southern shores in 2015, catching the bloc by surprise and overwhelming security and reception capacities in countries including Italy.
The 27-member governments have since struggled to modernise their shared asylum and migration rules – including the “crisis mechanism” – especially as they want to look in control for their voters ahead of a pan-EU parliamentary election in 2024.
Photo: European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson (L) European Commission Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life Margaritis Schinas (R) speak with each other at the start of a Justice and Home Affairs Council (Home Affairs) meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 28 September 2023 . The Council will focus on ongoing legislative discussions to reform EU asylum legislation. Ministers will also exchange views about the external dimension of migration, including on cooperation with external partners to manage migratory pressures. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET