The European Commission presented its new Pact on Migration and Asylum yesterday, which aims to solve the conflict between those EU member states that reject any kind of migrant relocation scheme and those countries that are in favor of one. Although the draft is theoretically in line with the Orbán government’s stance on the issue, the initial frosty reaction of the ruling party’s politicians, followed by Viktor Orbán’s crushing opinion on the pact, makes it clear that EC President Ursula von der Leyen is facing an uphill battle if she wants to push it through.
According to the EC, the new pact sets out improved and faster procedures for the asylum and migration system, and also seeks to balance the principles of responsibility sharing and solidarity.
On managing the EU’s external borders, the proposal contains a new and more efficient common system for returns, stricter external screening for all arrivals, and a more fully-realized operation of FRONTEX.
Additionally, the Commission wants to introduce an integrated border procedure, including pre-entry screening, for all people crossing the EU’s external borders without permission and those who have disembarked after a search and rescue operation. The screening process must be completed within 5 days, according to the plan.
The new concept also sets as goal the creation of an acceptable alternative for countries like Greece, Italy, and, Malta that are dealing with a huge influx of people arriving on their shores, as well as members that are in opposition to any kind of mandatory migrant quotas, such as Hungary, Poland, and Austria.
According to the new pact, a member state can either decide to take in refugees or choose to help deport illegal migrants. This new key mechanism is called „sponsorship.”
The sponsor has to help the country a migrant first enters within the EU, and return to their country of origin those whose asylum application is rejected.
The sponsors will even be able to choose the nationalities they help to return, but they will have to guarantee that it happens within eight months, according to the proposals. Otherwise, they will have to transfer the would-be returnees to their own country.
At first glance, the new concept in many ways seems to be in line with the Orbán government’s stance on migration, which has been emphasizing the importance of the protection of its external borders, resistance to migration pressure, and supporting the fight against illegal border crossings ever since the 2015 migration crisis. It has also assured its solidarity on many occasions with members states suffering the most from the pressure of migration.
Cautious reactions from Hungarian government politicians
In spite of this, the first reactions of Fidesz politicians and some of the pro-government political analysts have been rather frosty and careful.
Zoltán Kovács, state secretary for international communications, for example, outlined that the Hungarian government has had the same position on migration since 2015: members of the European Union should cooperate and ease the pressure of illegal migration outside the community.
In an interview commenting on the pact’s new approach towards migration, Justice Minster Judit Varga said that first “we must wait and see”
“The pact contains ten draft regulations, it is a very large work that needs to be scrutinized by experts before making any hasty comment,” she emphasized.
Balázs Hidvéghi, an MEP for the ruling Fidesz party, responded that the new European Union migration pact provides grounds for “cautious optimism”, adding that his party still needed to review the proposal in greater detail.
Meanwhile, some warn that while the new regulations might look good on paper, implementing them could prove to be an impossible task.
Orsolya Kurucz, an analyst on EU affairs at the pro-government Center for Fundamental Rights told news site Mandiner that recent experience has shown that returning people to their countries of origin is not yet working well, so this might cause member states to be forced to accept illegal migrants against their will, which would lead to the same situation as in 2015, when the migrant crisis broke out. According to Kurucz, the goal should instead be to prevent those individuals who are not entitled to stay here from entering the EU.
Orbán against new EC proposal
In spite of the initially cautious statements by Fidesz politicians, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was a lot more direct and critical about the pact.
„Hungary continues to oppose the migrant quota, even if the European Commission’s new migration and refugee package presented on Wednesday uses a different term for it”, he said after his Thursday meeting with Ursula von der Leyen and the prime ministers of the V4 countries.
Orbán said the tone of the EC’s new proposals have improved compared with previous iterations, but the EC’s basic approach had not changed and did not amount to a breakthrough.
A real breakthrough would require the EC to approve the Hungarian proposal that no one should be allowed to enter the territory of the European Union unless a member state chooses, after the appropriate legal proceedings, to let that individual in, he concluded.
Featured photo by Zoltán Fischer/PM’s Press Office/MTI