After Years of Wrangling, E.U. Countries Reach Major Deal on Migration

After Years of Wrangling, E.U. Countries Reach Major Deal on Migration
An Italian Coast Guard vessel, its deck full of migrants, passing a tourist boat in calm waters.
An Italian Coast Guard vessel carrying migrants rescued at sea near Lampedusa in September.Credit…Yara Nardi/Reuters

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European countries struck a key deal on Wednesday to overhaul their joint migration system, an agreement years in the making and aimed at allaying mounting pressure from ascendant far-right political parties across the continent.

The plan, named the European Union migration and asylum pact, took three years to negotiate and was only achieved through a patchwork of compromises. With anti-migrant sentiment rising and driving a shift to the right in Europe and beyond, negotiators were under pressure to finalize the agreement ahead of elections this summer across the bloc’s 27 nations.

The agreement aims to make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers and to limit entry of migrants into the bloc. It also seeks to give governments a greater sense of control over their borders while bolstering the E.U.’s role in migration management — treating it as a European issue, not just a national one.

“Migration is a European challenge that requires European solutions,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said in written comments welcoming the deal.

“It means that Europeans will decide who comes to the E.U. and who can stay, not the smugglers. It means protecting those in need,” she said.

Migration has long been a source of major tension and divisions in Europe, with the belief widespread in some countries that they are unfairly carrying a greater load by nature of their geographic location.

Wednesday’s deal is an attempt to heal those rifts by creating a system that more evenly distributes migrants and the costs of receiving them. It is also an attempt to fend off the far right, which has weaponized migration to appeal to a broader audience and forced what was once a fringe issue squarely into the political mainstream — putting the right to seek asylum at risk globally.

The pact stipulates that rapid assessments of whether a person is eligible for asylum will take place at borders. It would make it harder for asylum seekers to move on from the countries they arrive in — while offering further support to those nations through a so-called “solidarity mechanism.” That mechanism would see countries receiving fewer asylum seekers helping countries like Greece and Italy that receive more — either by taking in some of their asylum seekers, or offering those nations financial compensation.

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