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A long-awaited European Commission proposal on migration reform has been postponed again — this time until after EU leaders reach a deal on the bloc’s long-term budget, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said.
“We are in the process of finalizing the proposal but there are many member states that have asked us to wait until they’ve reached a preliminary agreement” on the budget, Johansson told POLITICO in an interview. “I think that’s a good idea to listen to that.”
Johansson spoke as EU leaders met by videoconference for their first discussion on the Commission’s revamped long-term €1.1 trillion budget plan and associated €750 billion recovery fund. Leaders plan to meet in person in mid-July but officials have stressed there are still many issues to be resolved before a deal can be reached.
The Commission has repeatedly delayed its proposal on one of the most sensitive issues in European politics, which put the EU under severe strain in the migration crisis of 2015. The delays underscore how contentious the issue remains, and how the European Union is struggling to move forward on other fronts while it grapples with the coronavirus crisis.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in March the proposal would be presented “right after Easter.” As the huge impact of the coronavirus became clearer, the plan was postponed until June: “I do hope that we will be able to present it in the beginning of the summer,” Johansson said just last month. The Commission’s revised work program, also presented last month, mentioned the plan among initiatives that had been delayed but would be “adopted as swiftly as possible.”
Some EU leaders such as Angela Merkel of Germany are pushing to get a deal on the budget, known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), and recovery fund “before the summer recess” and Johansson said she’s ready to present the migration proposal in July. But the Swedish commissioner also said she has been in politics for a long time and “things usually take time … It’s more realistic to talk about presenting it after the summer break.”
Raising migration reform while budget talks are ongoing could stoke tensions among EU member countries. Eastern European nations as Hungary, Poland and others oppose any mandatory plans to redistribute asylum seekers across the bloc, whereas Mediterranean countries like Italy, Spain and Greece insist on this aspect.
That issue remains open, Johansson said. “In my view, voluntary solidarity is not enough, so we need to have a mandatory solidarity mechanism, but the exact design of this mandatory solidarity mechanism is still to be fine-tuned,” she said.
But Johansson said fears her proposal could complicate the budget talks was not necessarily the reason countries had asked her to postpone. She suggested many governments just had their hands full dealing with the complex budget talks.
“Some member states actually asked me to wait because they say ‘now we are very occupied, with this process,'” she said.
One reason the Commission had been keen to present its proposal soon was that it hoped to capitalize on Germany taking over the six-month presidency of the Council of the EU on July 1. Berlin is not only the most powerful capital in the EU, but has also always been in the front line of the search for a compromise on migration.
Now the “German presidency needs to prioritize working to find an agreement on the budget,” Johansson said, and the decision to delay was taken in close contact with Berlin as “we are on the same line here.”
But she said that after a budget deal is done, Germany would still have plenty of capacity to push for an agreement on migration — even if she presents her proposal only after the summer holidays. “I’m quite convinced that the German presidency can push this forward a lot during their time even if it comes after the break,” Johansson said.