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Alexander Betts discussed the European Commission’s ‘New Pact on Migration and Asylum' with Christiane Amanpour on CNN this week.

Watch the interview here.

In the interview, he outlined the opportunities and the risks of the proposals. He emphasised that the wide-ranging Pact is a Commission document, which has yet to be agreed by the European Council or the Parliament. It has been in development since December but its launch has been accelerated by the tragic fire at the Moria refugee camp in Lesvos. The focus, Professor Betts explained is very much on managing irregular migration into the EU, with a strong focus on rapid assessment of asylum claims, rapid and effective return of ‘failed’ asylum seekers, and agreements with third countries.

The promise – but also the political challenge – lies in the renegotiation of the Common European Asylum System, and notably the Dublin system, which currently assigns responsibility for asylum claims and refugee protection to first countries of asylum. However, Professor Betts expressed scepticism about whether a new responsibility-sharing mechanism would be agreed at the political level, suggesting that for the last 5 years, EU Member States have failed to commit to relocate refugees from Greece and Italy. The mechanisms for responsibility-sharing in the Pact are based largely on voluntary 'solidarity', with states encouraged to commit proportionately to national income and population, but with the option to either take 'people' or contribute 'money' towards accelerated returns.

The failure of the EU to promptly relocate just 13,000 refugees following the fires in Moria, Betts suggested, provides evidence of a lack of political will, at a time when the real focus in Europe is on closing the external border, ensuring rapid returns, and working with third countries like Libya. Betts suggested that the EU must reconsider its relationship with Libya in this area as it is effectively “outsourcing its human rights obligations to a failed state”. In terms of solutions, Betts suggested that European governments must recognise that numbers are relatively low and that even though governments face major challenges, it is crucial for Europe to retain an ongoing commitment to human rights and global responsibility-sharing.

Professor Betts has provided the additional written commentary to go with the interview:

“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.

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.

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.

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.”

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