Home Affairs ministers will vote later this week on a draft law that introduces new rules on the relocation of asylum seekers.
The European Union could be on the cusp of a breakthrough in its migration policy, a long-awaited moment that has for years proved evasive despite repeated attempts to achieve a common, unified position.
Ministers of home affairs from the 27 member states will gather on Thursday for a high-stakes meeting in which they will be asked to vote on a key piece of legislation that introduces new rules on the relocation of asylum seekers.
Last year the bloc received 966,000 asylum requests, a rise of more than 50% compared to 2021.
"There is a big chance that we can have a very important breakthrough already now on Thursday," said Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for home affairs.
"This is the moment."
Speaking to the press on Tuesday morning, Johansson appeared visibly optimistic about the meeting's outcome, describing countries as being "so close" in their negotiations.
"Member states are really, I think, in a constructive mood to find the solutions, so I hope it will be possible on Thursday – actually I think it will," Johansson said.
"If there is a will, there will be an agreement."
On the table, there will be the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, presented by the European Commission back in September 2020.
The pact is an intricate, holistic proposal that pieces together all various aspects of migration policy with the goal of replacing the existing ad-hoc crisis management with a permanent, predictable rulebook.
Crucially, it includes a system of "mandatory solidarity," under which member states would be given three options on how to manage migration:
- Accept a number of relocated asylum-seekers.
- Pay for the return of rejected applicants to their country of origin.
- Finance so-called "operational measures," such as infrastructure and transport.
This solidarity mechanism, together with new rules on asylum procedures, will be put to a vote, following the latest compromise text drafted by the Swedish presidency of the EU Council.
If the result is positive, member states will be able to enter negotiations with the European Parliament with the goal of wrapping up the legislation before next year's European elections.
"This is not a zero-sum game. It's not about winners and losers. Because if we agree on a common approach to managing migration in a humane but restrictive way together, we will all be winners," said Johansson, urging countries to move past their differences and "act as team Europe."
"There is a trap because national debates try to make a drama of winners and losers, but actually without an agreement, we are all losers."
The breakthrough, however, is not guaranteed, as deep-seated divergences among countries remain entrenched after years of intense, divisive debates on this issue.
Southern European countries believe the proposal on the table does not have a sufficiently strong focus on burden-sharing, a key demand for frontline states that deal with new arrivals of migrants on an almost daily basis.
On the other hand, Eastern Europeans reject the notion of mandatory solidarity because it will force them to pay for the return of rejected asylum seekers.
The latest compromise text reportedly suggests a one-off payment of €22,000 euros per returned migrant, an amount that Poland has dismissed as "gross unfairness."
Neither Johansson nor the Swedish presidency disputed the figure.
"We didn't have that kind of figures in the (Commission's) proposal," said Johansson. "But my overall answer is that, yes, I think that what's on the table right now in the negotiations is well-balanced."
Asked about the opposition of some governments, Johansson insisted the legislation was based on "mandatory solidarity" rather than "mandatory relocation," an idea that was floated during the 2015-2016 migration crisis but never came to fruition.
"Solidarity needs to be mandatory," Johansson said, pointing out the three options the proposed system offers. "You can't ask some member states to do relocation while others do nothing. That will not be a sustainable solution."
The vote on Thursday will be taken under the rules of qualified majority, meaning the draft law will need the approval of a minimum of 15 member states representing at least 65% of the EU's population.
All eyes will be on the big countries, particularly on Italy, which bears the heaviest brunt in the bloc's continued struggle to manage migration.