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Why the EU’s New Migration Pact Matters

The EU’s Migrant and Asylum Pact, which just squeaked through the European Parliament, remains highly contentious, with some leaders pledging not to implement it at all. But, ultimately, the agreement’s provisions might be less important than the pragmatic coalition-building that got it passed.

MADRID – Amid escalating geopolitical tensions, and with European Parliament elections looming, the narrow passage earlier this month of the European Union’s Migrant and Asylum Pact has attracted relatively little attention. To be sure, the agreement is more remarkable for the mere fact of its enactment than for any of the provisions it contains. Nonetheless, it marks the culmination of a decade-long effort to reform the EU’s “Dublin system” for governing migration-related matters.

The need for change was undoubtedly urgent. In the last year alone, some 380,000 people crossed the EU’s borders without authorization – the highest number since 2016 – and a record 1.14 million sought asylum. The major “arrival countries” – such as Greece, Italy, and Spain – have long advocated for a fairer distribution of asylum-seekers across the EU. But consensus on the topic has been elusive, owing to divergent interests and priorities among EU member states.

That has not changed. The Migrant and Asylum Pact rests on a delicate trade-off: frontline states agreed to establish detention centers to process asylum-seekers’ claims and repatriate individuals deemed ineligible, and their EU counterparts would either accept a share of the rest or participate in cost-sharing initiatives. For a large share of Europe’s political leaders, however, this is not good enough.