European Union lawmakers on Thursday approved a series of proposals aimed at ending the yearslong standoff over how best to manage migration, a conundrum that has provoked one of the bloc’s biggest political crises.
The proposals — passed in a series of votes by a roughly two-thirds majority — include an emergency plan that would oblige the 27 EU nations to help one of their members should that country’s reception capacities be overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of people hoping to enter.
The measures make up the European Parliament’s position for negotiations with the EU member countries and set a clock ticking. The member countries now have a year to finally reform their creaking asylum system before Europe-wide elections are held in May 2024.
Should they fail to do so, the project might have to be abandoned or completely overhauled as it’s taken up by the next European Commission — the EU’s executive branch — and the new members of parliament.
“If we miss this chance to make it right, I don’t think we will have another,” Spanish Socialist lawmaker Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, who guided the plan through the assembly, said ahead of the vote. “The kind of a message would be: ‘Hey, listen, it’s not going to happen. Not this time. Ever.'”
Europe’s divisions over migration were exposed in 2015 when well over 1 million people, mostly Syrians fleeing war, sought refuge. Reception facilities in the Greek islands and Italy were swamped.
As migrants moved north in the tens of thousands, some countries — Austria, Hungary and Slovenia among them — erected fences and barriers. Many people hoped to find sanctuary or better lives in places like Germany and Sweden.
Under existing rules, the country that people first land in must take responsibility for them. Greece, Italy and tiny Malta say that is unfair. They’ve demanded support and solidarity from their EU partners. But several countries refuse to accept the imposition of obligatory quotas of migrants.
The dispute has led to the collapse of the system. Unable to agree, the EU has tried to outsource its migrant challenge, making legally dubious deals with countries like Turkey or Libya, which many people transit on their way to Europe.