Waiting for the white smoke
Welcome to EU Politics Decoded where Benjamin Fox and Eleonora Vasques will bring you a round-up of the latest political news in Europe and beyond every Thursday. In this edition we await the white smoke of an agreement on the EU’s migration and asylum pact.
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Editor’s Take: The white smoke is close. EU home affairs ministers gathered in Brussels today for a meeting that, hopefully, will end years of tortured negotiations on the EU’s migration and asylum rules.
But it’s not a done deal, yet.
Tensions between the EU institutions escalated last week when the Parliament said they would block two key files – the ‘Screening’ file and a bill to amend rules on the EU’s asylum database, Eurodac, if EU ministers continue to block talks on the crisis regulation.
The crisis regulation seeks to create an EU framework for managing migration flows within Europe in cases where member states struggle to deal with large arrivals.
The plan, agreed in June, for a system where states that refuse to take their quota of migrants are required to pay €20,000 per person into an EU fund has been bitterly opposed by Poland and Hungary.
On Thursday (28 September), Hungary’s Deputy Interior Minister Bence Rétvári told reporters that the pact would “open a newer door, a newer opportunity for even more immigrants to arrive illegally in Europe.”
Poland, meanwhile, will hold a referendum on the EU migration and asylum pact on the same day as its general election on 15 October. However, there is little that either country can do to torpedo a deal. As German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser pointed out, a qualified majority of member states are in favour.
But the clock is ticking, and Belgian Secretary of State Nicole de Moor warned that EU lawmakers only have “40 or 50 days” to get the legislation over the line.
“We will finally deprive the demagogues and populists in Europe who are still claiming we cannot sort out the situation,” said European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas.
He added that EU countries had spent “too many years struggling and failing” to agree on migration.
There is some truth in Schinas’ claim, and it is telling that most politicians in the centre-right, centre-left and liberal parties in Brussels recognise that failure to reach a compromise, however imperfect, will embolden eurosceptics to contend that the EU is incapable of addressing citizens’ concerns about migration. This is a toxic charge in a European election year.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is in a win-win situation; an agreement on quotas and more flexibility for border authorities would mark a significant diplomatic win for her, while any failure could be blamed on Brussels.
But no one should pretend that the agreement tonight will radically change the EU’s migration rules or the flow of migrants and asylum seekers into the bloc.
New laws will do little to stop the boats from continuing to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Nor will they provide more badly needed resources for national border authorities to deal with the backlog of cases.
NGOs such as the International Rescue Committee have warned that stricter rules on applications of children and migrants pushed to the border when third countries try to ‘weaponise’ migration and open their EU borders would a mark a big step backwards for European human rights.
Even so, the deal on the table represents the best chance in almost a decade for some progress on EU migration policy. Ministers and MEPs should not make an enemy of compromise.
Who is Electioneering
Slovakia progressives on the rise. Progressive Slovakia surpassed Robert Fico’s party, Smer, according to the latest polls conducted by the AKO agency published on Thursday (28 September). According to the agency, Progressive Slovakia is at 18% while Smer slightly above with 17.7%. Third place is for the socialist party Hlas with 15%.
Norway offers Sweden help in tackling rising gang violence. Norway and Sweden must work together amid the growing gang-related violence in Sweden, which is already spreading across the border, Norwegian Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl, who met her Swedish counterpart in Stockholm, said on Wednesday.
PP leader needs to improve in first attempt to become Spanish prime minister. The leader of the centre-right Partido Popular, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, failed in his first attempt in parliament to become Spain’s next prime minister on Wednesday, although he will have a final chance on Friday, which is also likely to fail.
Romania used unconventional means to press Austria into lifting Schengen veto. Austria maintaining its veto to prevent Romania from joining the Schengen border-free zone is impacting Romanian leaders, who are now looking for alternative solutions “other than the diplomatic way” while Euroscepticism in the country continues to grow.
Slovenia to send more police to border with Croatia. Slovenia has decided to send more troops to its border with Croatia, just weeks after increasing police presence in a specific area along the border and refusing to rule out a full reintroduction of police checks at the EU’s internal border.
Inside the institutions
Long migration negotiations, maybe with some results. EU ministers are gathering in Brussels on Thursday (28 September) to eventually find an agreement on the so-called Crisis Management Regulation, the legislative file that would give the EU a common migration management framework in times of crisis. At the time of writing, ministers are yet to find common ground, despite the German government seeming to have solved the political deadlocks on Wednesday (27 September), as reported by the German press. The file needs just a qualified majority to pass rather than unanimity. The Spanish presidency proposed a compromise text on the legislative file that “has already a majority”. The position will be discussed in the so-called Coreper meeting this afternoon. A diplomatic source told Euractiv that the Italian government is unhappy about the text, particularly regarding a part that would regulate the work of NGOs in times of crisis. The Italian journalist David Carretta wrote on X that the Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi asked to cut the part where it is said that NGOs “cannot be accused of instrumentalisation”. However, even without the Italians, “there will be a majority to pass the bill,” the same source said.
Grid fees remain key sticking point as EU finalises hydrogen rules. As the European Union finalises its hydrogen and gas rulebook, key issues remain on how to remunerate network operators for building and maintaining Europe’s future hydrogen grid.
PODCAST: EU’s sex work report: Key omissions. This week, Euractiv’s Beyond the Byline podcast looks into the hotly contested report on the regulation of sex work.
What we are reading
The EU may have some success getting tech firms to tackle fake news – but good luck with Elon Musk, Chris Stokel-Walker writes for The Guardian
Non-European companies need not fear the EU’s new carbon border tax, economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni writes for The Financial Times
How do you make embarrassing EU documents ‘disappear’? Arthur Neslen writes for EU Observer
The next week in politics
The European Political Community will meet in Granada on Thursday (5 October). Security and cooperation are among issues on the agenda.
EU head of states will meet again in Granada on Friday (6 October) for an informal gathering ahead of the European Council that will occur at the end of October. EU leaders will discuss the strategic agenda and most likely migration will be a topic that will make the participants very busy.
MEPs are going to Strasbourg to gather for their plenary session