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Watch the interview here.

In this interview on CNN's Amanpour show on 23rd September 2020, Alexander Betts discussed the European Commission's 'New Pact on Migration and Asylum'. He emphasised the following points:

  • This is a Commission proposal, and it is yet to be debated/approved at the political level by the Parliament/Council. 
  • It is welcome that the EU is trying to engage in a 'reset' on its Common European Asylum System (especially relating to the Dublin Regulation), and especially use the (potential) momentum of solidarity created by Moria.
  • The Pact is pragmatic, and reflects its origins in the German Presidency of the Council and the strong links to new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
  • In content, the focus of the Pact is on the management of irregular migration. The bulk of the focus is on rapid assessment of asylum claims, rapid returns for 'failed asylum seekers', and agreements with third countries. 
  • The challenging and also most interesting part is the reform of 'responsibility-sharing' mechanisms for asylum/refugees in the EU. Moving away from the Dublin system's de facto allocation of responsibility to the first countries of arrival (Greece/Italy), it envisages a 'relocation' scheme based on a 'trigger' during emergencies. The challenge, however, is that this is intended to be voluntary and based on 'solidarity'. Although it suggests a 'distribution key' based on population/GDP, states can either commit to 'take people' or 'contribute money' towards activities like return. 
  • Current state practice — the struggle to get commitments on Moria relocation, the overwhelming focus on working with Libya (which has appalling practices in its treatment of migrants) — suggests that only a minority of EU member states are seriously interested in refugee protection or are approaching this in a spirit of genuine solidarity. 
  • Another observation Alexander Betts made is that the Pact seems to reflect an emerging trend in multilateral diplomacy, which he'd call the 'kitchen sink approach'. Documents are produced that are wide-ranging and provide 'something for everyone'. The advantage — especially at times of significant political constraint — is that they can move you beyond political impasse and gradually build consensus. The disadvantage is that they are largely based on voluntarism, they enable states to select what they want and leave the rest, and they defer 'doing the deal' until further down the track. For better or worse, we saw a similar approach in the Global Compacts on refugees and migration. 
  • The best way forward will be to encourage Europe's leaders to recognise refugees as a shared global responsibility, and to commit to both internal solidarity and support to countries outside the EU hosting much larger numbers. 

The full Pact can be found here: https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/migration-and-asylum-package_en

See also: New Pact on Migration and Asylum: Questions and Answers 

“There is a lot that is potentially promising about the Pact. It is pragmatic, and it represents a serious attempt to move beyond the impasse that has characterised reform of the Common European Asylum System since 2015. The politics is tricky. Even before COVID-19, there was rising populist nationalism across Europe, and now there is the prospect of global recession, with implications for public attitudes to migration. Different European governments have quite different visions.”

ALEXANDER BETTS

“In a way, the Pact reflects its origins in the German Presidency of the European Council and new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s close relationship to the German government. It is an attempt to move things forwards, and gradually build a new consensus on an approach that can balance a range of different concerns. It balances a control agenda with a protection agenda.”

ALEXANDER BETTS

“It also reflects an emerging trend in multilateral diplomacy relating to refugees and migration, which is to produce wide-ranging documents that offer ‘something for everyone’, are initially non-binding, and attempt to gradually build political consensus. It’s an approach we saw at the global level with the Global Compacts on both refugees and migration. The advantage of the approach is that it offers a starting point at a challenging and highly constrained political moment. The disadvantage is that it risks meaning all things to all people, allowing states to continue to be highly selective in their practices, and defers actually ‘doing the deal’ until later.”

ALEXANDER BETTS

“Despite this, and given the context, we have to welcome the Commission’s broad attempt to break the impasse, and hope European leaders approach the process seriously and in a spirit of solidarity and respect for human rights.”

ALEXANDER BETTS