Despite a nerve-racking buildup leading up to the vote on Wednesday (10 April) afternoon, and the final agreement to no one’s liking, the EU’s asylum and migration pact ultimately passed with a thin majority on certain parts of the package. 

The file was only passed through due to abstentions, which were used by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who disagreed with the text but wanted the file to pass, as a means to state their grievances. 

In the hours before the vote, one political group leader after another, and the law’s negotiators, repeatedly appealed to the MEPs’ sense of responsibility, to deliver for citizens, after almost ten years of deadlock, a reform of the bloc’s migration and asylum seekers’ entrance procedures.

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The voting session had barely started when a visitors group erupted, chanting “This Pact kills, vote no”, stopping the session, repeating the calls from several NGOs, worried that the texts did not protect human lives and fundamental rights well enough.

Most of the files passed with a tight majority of around 50 votes. Those related to the registration of people’s information at the border, the database, and the return policy, were overwhelmingly supported, with more than 400 votes in favour, and around 200 against.

Once the complete Pact was passed, MEPs refrained from cheering as is the tradition with big files. The law, ultimately, does not satisfy anyone as it is the fruit of years of negotiations between different stakeholders.

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The text will now be passed on to member states in the Council, who are scheduled to vote on 29 April via qualified majority.

“Now, we must make sure that what has been agreed to is fully implemented in all our Member States, and that implementation goes hand in hand with the respect for our shared humanity,” Parliament’s President Roberta Metsola said after the vote.

“It is not a perfect solution, it is a compromise that we in the European Parliament are accepting with a heavy lump in our throats, but was absolutely necessary,” said one of the leading negotiators, Slovakian Socialist MEP Matjaz Nemec.

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Given the size and impact of the package, including more than five legislative texts and hundreds of pages, some political groups and national delegations have decided to cherry-pick which files to support and which to oppose.

Greens and far-left raise fundamental rights issues

The Greens already announced before the vote they would oppose certain files as they failed to protect fundamental rights, they argued: “What about our values of humanity and solidarity? (…) It is better to have no deal than a bad deal, a deal that would be a true failure of civilisation,” said Belgium Greens MEP Saskia Bricmont. 

This was a thought shared by The Left group: “This pact is a pact of shame and disgrace,” said German Left MEP Cornelia Ernst. 

Ultimately, none of the files fell, but if one did, the whole Pact would have been endangered, as they are all interdependent. 

“This is a now-or-never vote. This moment will not come back. History is watching and our voters are watching,” said Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, in her address to Parliament before the vote, adding “All files must pass or no files will pass.”

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A few rebels among socialists, centre-right, and liberals

Despite general support from the socialists (S&D), centre-right (EPP), and liberals (Renew), some members and national delegations still rebelled and voted against parts of the pact.

The Italian Socialist delegation voted against some files, along with their national counterparts, the Five Star Movement, currently not affiliated with any political group. 

Part of the reason for their opposition is most likely due to the involvement in the agreement of their national rival, the Conservative party Fratelli d’Italia.

Members of France’s Les Républicains, part of the EPP, also voted against some of the files, to oppose French President Emmanuel Macron’s party Renaissance, breaking away from their group’s stance.

Among the Liberals, some MEPs decided to abstain despite the Renew Group’s line to vote in favour, even though some of their MEPs, Fabienne Keller and Sophie Int’Veld, handled the negotiations. 

Fight against far-right rhetoric 

The fight against the far-right pushed the political group leaders to mobilise  MEPs, both in favour and against. 

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Some lawmakers argued that voting against the pact would give the far-right an easy win, especially since, if it fails, negotiations for a new scheme will have to be undertaken next term, where far-right and conservative forces are expected to have a bigger share in the Parliament. 

“If you vote against that pact you will give a victory to the far right of Europe,” said Socialist Birgit Sippel, adding “Europe needs in this legislature clear rules for control and solidarity, all of which are based on values of democracy, rule of law, and fundamental rights.”

Other lawmakers on the left voiced their concern that the pact is giving too many concessions to centre-right and hard-right forces, such as Giorgia Meloni’s party the Fratelli d’Italia sitting with the Conservatives.

“You are about to give in to the far right, this pact does not give any answers to better managing the inflows, the pact is the opposite, it is fortress Europe,” said Green MEP Saskia Bricmont.

Electioneering ahead of June’s European Elections

This file will continue playing a key role in national electoral campaigns, especially ahead of June’s EU elections.

Sippel said: “Some think it’s not good enough, and others think it’s not bad enough in how we deal with migrants.”

“Of course, these two points also make it that maybe some are thinking about elections and what message they are sending to their national electorate,” she added.

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How to manage migrant flows is a key priority for all European parties’ election campaigns.

The EPP, for example, bids to expand the EU’s migration policy next term by increasing migrant returns to ‘safe’ third countries, the controversial so-called ‘Rwanda model’ pushed by the United Kingdom.

In France, the French government is openly planning to use the vote on the file in its EU elections campaign, Euractiv reported, to fight off its main opposition the Rassemblement National.

However, in a poll conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) in 12 EU countries, 15% of respondents saw immigration as the leading crisis in the last decade.

Only in Germany (29%) and Austria (24%) is migration seen as a leading concern among citizens.

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