EU signs off on sweeping migration overhaul ahead of elections

The New Pact on Migration and Asylum approval comes as EU prepares to hold elections in which migration could be pivotal.

refugees at sea
The new rules, which come into effect in 2026, lay out the guidelines for screening people claiming asylum in the EU [File: Johanna De Tessieres/SOS Mediterranee via Reuters]

The European Union has given the final green light to a landmark overhaul of its migration and asylum policies that will see hardened borders and shared responsibility among member states, as campaigning heats up for Europe-wide elections next month.

The New Pact on Migration and Asylum was officially approved by the 27-nation bloc’s economy ministers, ending more than eight years of work to rewrite the rule book for handling people who enter Europe without authorisation.

A majority of member nations backed the reform’s 10 pieces of legislation, ensuring its passage despite opposition from Hungary and Poland, which have long rejected the idea that all European countries should take in a share of arrivals.

The new rules, which come into effect in 2026, lay out the guidelines for screening people to establish whether they qualify for some kind of protection, like asylum or deportation if they are not allowed to stay.

Mainstream political parties believe the pact provides answers to questions that have divided nations since more than one million refugees and migrants entered Europe in 2015, most fleeing wars in Syria and Iraq.

They also hope the reforms will starve the far right of vote-winning oxygen in the upcoming European Parliament elections scheduled from June 6 to 9.

A report by the EU Agency for Asylum (EUAA) published in February showed that more than 1.14 million people filed applications for international protection in the bloc in 2023.

Critics say the pact will let nations detain refugees and migrants at borders and fingerprint children. The new measures, they say, are aimed at keeping people out and infringe on their right to claim asylum and will result in more dubious political deals.

Amnesty International on Tuesday warned that the reforms will, for years, put people at heightened risk of human rights violations.

It said each step of negotiations on the asylum reforms “has worsened the final outcome” and the agreement will “worsen existing laws” while also failing to “address pressing gaps in EU asylum systems”.

Europe’s populist, anti-immigration far-right parties have seen their support grow. Polls predict strong results for the two most right-leaning groups in the European Parliament, the Identity and Democracy (ID) group and the eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).

According to aggregator Europe Elects, their combined votes could match the size of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the parliament’s largest group.

Compared with the last election round in 2019, ECR’s electorate is projected to grow by 24 percent and the ID’s by 11 percent. Meanwhile, the EPP remained stable, with only a 1 percent increase in voters.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies