Will it fail? EU migration reform faces tight vote as party divisions in Parliament deepen

The crucial vote on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum will take place in the Brussels seat of the European Parliament.
The crucial vote on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum will take place in the Brussels seat of the European Parliament. Copyright Virginia Mayo/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Virginia Mayo/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Jorge LiboreiroVincenzo Genovese & Maria Psara
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The European Union's make-or-break attempt to reform its migration and asylum policy faces a tight vote in the Parliament, as party divisions deepen.

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The vote is scheduled to take place on Wednesday afternoon in a plenary session that will see MEPs go through a list of complex, interlinked pieces of legislation.

All eyes will be on the five laws that make up the so-called New Pact on Migration and Asylum, the comprehensive overhaul that seeks to turn the page on almost 10 years of go-it-alone reactions and instead establish common and predictable rules to manage the reception and relocation of asylum seekers.

First presented in September 2020, the New Pact has gone through many ups and downs, including periods of impasse that made it seem the legislation would never reach the finish line. Things changed last year as the issue returned to the top of the agenda, leading to a provisional agreement in December between the Parliament and the Council, despite their notable differences.

This breakthrough compromise still needs the final green light from each institution before its enactment into law. Time, however, is running short: the upcoming elections to the Parliament mean April is the last chance for MEPs to endorse the New Pact.

Given the high stakes at play, Wednesday's vote was initially expected to go smoothly, with legislators from across the political spectrum coming together to support the reform, which is one of the biggest – if not the biggest – political files of this mandate.

But in a briefing with journalists on Tuesday, the rapporteurs in charge of the five laws toned down their optimism and acknowledged the gaps between and within parties.

"No one can know what will be the outcome of the vote," said Tomas Tobé, from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP). 

"My work is constantly now, hour by hour, convincing colleagues that the absolute best way to help support a European migration policy is to be loyal to the whole migration pact," he went on. "I understand that it is very easy to find your own populist view, perhaps, on parts of the pact that you might not like."

Speaking by his side, Birgit Sippel, from the Socialists & Democrats (S&D), said the arguments in favour and against the reform were "totally different" and might be influenced by electioneering rather than policy considerations.

"Some think, like we heard, it's not good enough, and others think it's not bad enough in how we deal with migrants," Sippel told journalists. "Maybe some are thinking about elections and what message they are sending to their national electorate."

The opposition to the New Pact comes from some familiar corners, such as the lawmakers from Hungary's Fidesz, who are non-attached, and the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group, which encompasses Italy's Lega, France's National Rally and Germany's Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

But resistance is also emerging from the inside of mainstream forces. The 16 Italian members of the S&D are determined to vote down the New Pact, according to Brando Benifei, who leads the delegation.

"There are those who legitimately think that this compromise is better than no compromise, but for us, as Italians in the PD (Partito Democratico), it is really too little," Benifei told Euronews.

Benifei attacked the provisional deal struck with the Council, saying it would transform Italy into an "open-air" reception centre and push migrants to "third countries."

"For us, human rights and European solidarity are fundamental. We do not endorse an agreement that leaves Italy too alone and is not sufficiently solid on the rights of the most fragile people," he added.

Another Italian delegation, the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), which is non-attached, is equally opposed to the New Pact, calling it "useless for Italy" and "damaging for the rights of migrants who are sacrificed on the alter of demagogy."

Both PD and M5S are in opposition to Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose party, Fratelli d'Italia (FdI), was originally thought to be firmly in favour of the reform, which features a system of "mandatory solidarity" to help out frontline nations. However, a spokesperson said Fratelli d'Italia "has not decided yet and will consider each file in itself."

In the Parliament, FdI sits with the hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), currently dominated by the Polish delegation of Law and Justice (PiS), which is staunchly against the reform.

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Further resistance comes from the opposite side of the room: the Left (37 MEPs) and the Greens (72 MEPs). Both argue the stringent provisions pushed by member states will degrade the quality of the asylum process and fuel violations of fundamental rights.

"The Pact will entrench existing problems by disproportionately focusing on deterrence, including through the widespread detention of people and children, while reducing their rights. It will shift ever more responsibility to third countries and greater financial resources to autocratic governments and warlords," Philippe Lamberts, co-chair of the Greens, said in a statement to Euronews.

"It's clear that the current political class is desperate to claim that they have solved the issue of migration, regardless of the realities on the ground."

Meanwhile, the EPP, the largest formation in the hemicycle, will hold a meeting on Wednesday morning to fortify its position and discuss the latest developments.

All in all, the New Pact needs a simple majority in the 705-member hemicycle to go through, a threshold that depends on how many MEPs show up to vote.

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Although the five laws will be voted on separately, they are treated as one indivisible package, meaning the collapse of one could easily trigger a domino effect. 

It's extremely unlikely the Council will move forward with an incomplete set of rules: throughout the arduous negotiations, co-legislators committed to maintaining the "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" motto until the very end.

"If one of the pillars of this system falls, then the whole system would be not on its two feet, on its right balance. It should be a balanced approach. And that (requires) adopting all of the regulations," Juan Fernando López Aguilar, another rapporteur, said on Tuesday.

"Should any one of the regulations fail, that would be very detrimental."

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