EU migration pact reaches denouement

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Good morning. Today, Laura walks us through the EU’s historic migration deal that faces final adoption this afternoon after almost 10 years of negotiations, while our competition correspondent reports on a Brussels idea to woo social media influencers to the EU cause.

Bitter pill

Better a controversial deal than no deal at all?

That’s the choice facing European lawmakers today as they prepare to approve reforms of the EU’s asylum and migration system that has been in the works for almost a decade, writes Laura Dubois.

Context: The momentous overhaul was first proposed in 2016, after more than 2mn people claimed asylum in the bloc, with many fleeing the Syrian civil war. After years of wrangling, the member states and parliament finally shook hands on the reforms in December.

Parliament is expected to give its final stamp of approval, but lawmakers are not exactly celebrating over the heavy concessions they had to make to member states keen to curb migration.

Matjaž Nemec, a social democrat, told journalists yesterday that the compromise was a “bitter pill” for parliament to swallow. “I’m not going to open a bottle of champagne,” said liberal lawmaker Sophie in ’t Veld.

The reforms mean that a higher number of asylum claims will be fast-tracked at the EU’s external borders in a bid to tackle irregular migration. Parliament was also not successful in completely exempting children from detention during this so-called border procedure, which activists have criticised.

“It’s the result of heavy, difficult work,” said liberal MEP Fabienne Keller.

The reforms stipulate that people could be rejected for asylum if they can be sent to a third country deemed safe. This opens the door more widely to externalising asylum processes, which is increasingly popular despite legal difficulties.

Many NGOs have cried foul over possible rights breaches and criticised the reforms for not overhauling the distribution of refugees between member states — as originally proposed.

“The legal reforms . . . are an effort to try to limit the numbers of people who have access to protection in Europe,” Catherine Woollard, head of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles told the FT.

But after years of stops and starts, lawmakers are under pressure to push the reforms through. “If we are not going to adopt this package, it is a complete illusion . . . to think that there is going to be a new proposal on the table any time soon,” said in ’t Veld.

The stakes are high: If lawmakers vote down part of the reforms, the whole package could fail. Populist parties are expected to vote against it, but some delegations in the bigger groups also have issues with parts of the pact.

Negotiators yesterday were confident. “If we look at the big, responsible political groups, I expect a very strong majority,” said Tomas Tobé of the centre-right European People’s party.

Chart du jour: German decline

German industry is unlikely to fully recover from the recent energy crisis, the head of the country’s energy group RWE has said, warning of “significant structural demand destruction” in energy-intensive sectors.

Bad influence

Brussels is being urged to train social media influencers to combat disinformation and leverage their powerful mini media brands that can reach millions of people, writes Javier Espinoza.

Context: Ahead of the EU elections in June, regulators are increasingly concerned about the potential for disinformation and foreign influence to undermine the vote’s credibility or swing its outcome.

Influencers, some of whom boast tens of millions of social media followers, should be made aware of the legal implications of their political statements, according to an official document prepared by the Council of the European Union and seen by the FT.

This, the document says, is particularly important in the context of new EU regulations — from the AI Act to the Digital Services Act — which make it difficult for any legal expert, let alone a footballer or pop star, to know what their online obligations are.

It calls on member states to “make an effort to ensure that influencers understand and comply with relevant national and European legislation, including the above-mentioned legal acts, by making the applicable rules available in an easily accessible and comprehensible way”.

Because of their disparate nature and lack of cohesive representation, officials said influencers must be educated in media literacy of the audiences they are trying to influence. “There is a need to further strengthen the development of the media literacy skills and responsible behaviour of influencers,” the document added.

It even calls on countries to explore the creation of “representative organisations and influencer agencies” to help them be up to date with the latest legislation.

Good luck getting Taylor Swift to sign up.

What to watch today

  1. Finnish President Alexander Stubb meets Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels.

  2. European Commission weekly college meeting.

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