Europe 1 with AFP / Photo credit: DURSUN AYDEMIR / ANADOLU AGENCY / ANADOLU AGENCY VIA AFP 22:18 p.m., June 08, 2023

On Thursday, at a crucial meeting, EU interior ministers are trying to reach an agreement in Luxembourg to unblock the difficult reform of migration policy. During this rally, Gérald Darmanin had to leave it hastily after a knife attack in Annecy.

European interior ministers are trying Thursday in Luxembourg to agree to unblock the difficult reform of migration policy, at a crucial meeting that Frenchman Gerald Darmanin had to leave hastily following a knife attack in his country. The French Minister of the Interior left the conference center at the end of the morning, after the announcement that this attack that took place in Annecy (East of the France) seriously injured several young children. The prognosis is life-threatening for two of the four affected children, and for one adult. The alleged perpetrator of the attack, who was arrested, is a Syrian refugee, said a police source in Paris. This EU meeting is seen as a key moment for discussions on the Asylum and Migration Pact.

"It's been almost three years since I presented this proposal. It's been a marathon and we have maybe 100 metres left," said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, calling on member states to make "the last few metres to reach an agreement today". Several diplomats estimated the chances of an agreement at "50-50", as the subject is so contentious within the 27. The issue of reforming the asylum system has returned to the top of the agenda, with an increase in migrant arrivals in the European Union since the end of the pandemic and while some four million Ukrainians are refugees in the EU. The trend is towards an increasingly restrictive migration policy, in a context where the far right has recently achieved electoral successes in several member countries.

"Flexible" solidarity

Sweden, the country holding the six-monthly Presidency of the Council of the EU, has submitted compromise proposals to ministers on two key texts of the Pact. One provides for mandatory but "flexible" European solidarity. Member states would be obliged to receive a certain number of asylum seekers arriving in an EU country under migratory pressure ("relocations"), or failing to make a financial contribution to that country. An attempt to find a balance between Mediterranean countries of first arrival, which would like automatic relocations to other countries, and those like Hungary or Poland that refuse to be imposed asylum seekers.

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, expected in Rome at midday, said Italy and Greece in particular were facing "an enormous challenge" with increasing arrivals at their borders. "We cannot leave these countries alone," he said in an interview with Corriere della Sera. The discussions focus on financial compensation of around 20,000 euros for each asylum seeker not relocated, according to several diplomatic sources. The other text submitted to ministers obliges member states to implement an accelerated procedure for examining asylum applications for a certain number of migrants who have the least statistical chance of obtaining refugee status, in border centres. The aim is to facilitate their return to their country of origin or transit.

'Difficult compromise'

"There is a compromise on the table that is very difficult for us. I am fighting to ensure that families with young children are not subject to the border procedure," German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said. In the early morning, before being replaced at the meeting by the French ambassador, Gérald Darmanin stressed that the border procedure allowed a rapid response. "It is today that the situation is not very human," he said. "When applicants are entitled to asylum, they are only given very late (...) When they are not entitled to this asylum, it is very difficult for us to send them back to their countries of origin," he said.

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Austria, which defends a hard line on immigration, advocates relocating these asylum applications to third countries, on the model of what Denmark planned to do in Rwanda. "I will fight so that we can carry out procedures in safe third countries, to prevent people from coming to Europe by sea and drowning," Austrian Minister Gerhard Karner said. Several countries, including Hungary and Poland, have voiced opposition to the reform proposals, diplomats said. Decisions are taken by qualified majority, which means that support from 15 out of 27 countries is needed to reach an agreement.