The EU Parliament has approved reforms to the European Union’s immigration and asylum policy.

The EU Parliament’s president Roberta Metsola said we have delivered on one of the main concerns of people across Europe, she declared that this is a historic day.

She added that the so-called New Pact on Migration and Asylum, an elaborate set of five separate but intertwined pieces of legislation, only needs the final green light from member states, which is expected at the end of the month.

The New Pact envisions collective and predictable rules to manage the reception and relocation of asylum seekers, a politically explosive issue that has been a recurring source of tension since the 2015-2016 migration crisis, frustrating continued attempts to achieve a common understanding at the European level.

The reform, first unveiled in September 2020, aims to turn the page on this go-it-alone era by bringing together all aspects of migration management, including the identification of asylum seekers, accelerated border procedures and the resettlement of refugees. Its main novelty is a system of “mandatory solidarity” to ensure all countries, regardless of their size and location, contribute to alleviating the pressure on Southern Europe.

The ambitious proposal by the European Commission ran for hundreds of pages and involved a myriad of complex issues, such as fundamental rights, unaccompanied minors, data privacy, financial contributions, detention periods and national security, which slowed down the legislative process.The Parliament and member states in the Council spent years debating and amending the New Pact, deepening the intricacy of an already intricate legislation. The talks were particularly arduous in the Council, where countries espoused opposing views according to geography, economy and ideology.

Mindful of the high stakes, MEPs took the lead and unified their position while impatiently waiting for the Council to follow suit. The hard-fought negotiations between the two institutions stretched for several rounds and concluded as the sun rose on 20 December.

Parliament endorsed this compromise on Wednesday, albeit by a margin smaller than initially expected owing to the brewing dissent. The five laws received, on average, 300 votes in favour and 270 against.

The votes were slightly delayed by a few minutes as protesters threw paper planes at the sitting MEPs and chanted “This pact kills, vote no.”The result allows mainstream parties to breathe a sigh of relief, as they are keen to flaunt the reform in their campaign for June’s EU parliament elections, believing it can show citizens that “the EU delivers.” But whether it lives up to the high expectations is a question that will take time to be answered: the laws will take about two years to enter into full force.

Metsola promised the New Pact would be “fair” with those entitled to international protection, “firm” with those who are ineligible, and “strong” against smugglers. But, she added, it would not “magically solve every issue overnight.We must make sure that what has been agreed to is fully implemented in all our member states, and that implementation goes hand-in-hand with the respect for our shared humanity,” Metsola said.

Speaking by her side, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the reform would make a “real difference for all Europeans” by improving border security, speeding up asylum procedures and cracking down on abusive practices. I am proud to say we delivered a European solution. But our work is not done yet,” von der Leyen told reporters. “It must be the same determination and unity that has led us to this day that has to guide us to make the Pact a true success in Europe.


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