The new European pact on migration and asylum contains almost everything that Spain did not want and contains almost nothing of what it wanted. The roadmap that will guide migration policy in the EU does not resolve the Spanish demand for a mandatory solidarity mechanism to alleviate pressure from migrant entry countries and imposes new express border procedures that Madrid does not share. The result of nine months of negotiations was foreseeable, Madrid did not hold much hope of seeing its aspirations, rejected by the Eastern and Northern countries, reflected in the new document. It is a minimum proposal that Spain will not reject outright, but neither will it applaud.
The document presented this Wednesday reflects the pressure from countries such as Hungary and Poland, which refuse to accept asylum seekers in their territories, and reduces solidarity between partners to flexible mechanisms that each state can decide according to its convenience. It may be about migrant relocations, logistical support or the management and financing of expulsions. This approach, which is one of the pillars of the pact, is contrary to the demands of Madrid that sought a “mandatory solidarity” and based on the relocation of people. Spain did not require fixed quotas for the distribution of migrants, a formula that already failed in 2015 and was discarded from the beginning, but it did require its partners to undertake to welcome part of the asylum seekers who arrive on its shores, taking into account its status as a country of entry for irregular immigration and the responsibility it assumes for rescues in the Mediterranean.
The aid from other countries to expel migrants, proposed by the Commission as an effective means of collaboration, does not represent a great change for Spain either, which, despite not reaching the highest rates of repatriation in the EU and being slightly below the European average (32%), maintains a fairly well-oiled policy of forced return. Spain has readmission agreements with more than thirty states and takes special care of its relations with the countries of origin of the main nationalities –– Morocco and Algeria, especially–– that arrive on its territory. Madrid, moreover, was not in favor of trusting the new immigration policy to the expulsions of immigrants, as the proposal has finally reflected.
The new European pact contemplates three scenarios not yet defined in which a mandatory contribution mechanism would be activated, but it is again a flexible mechanism and it is not clear that Spain will benefit from it. This binding solidarity would be activated at the request of the affected country in the face of shipwrecked disembarkation, crisis situations or in the face of very high migratory pressure in specific situations. The first scenario is designed to benefit Malta and Italy, which are reluctant to accept the landing of NGO rescue ships, and does not take into account the Spanish reality or their commitment to a public maritime rescue service. The lack of definition of the other two crisis frames leaves up in the air how it will affect Spain and if with an upturn in arrivals like the current one in the Canary Islands, for example, it could benefit from the solidarity of its neighbors.
The European pact also seeks to quickly differentiate between economic immigrants and refugees and proposes for this screening of these profiles in an express procedure at the point of entry, which Spain rejected on the grounds that asylum is a right that must be exercised voluntarily and not forcibly on the border. The potential refugees will be able to stay and eventually be relocated, but the rest will immediately enter an expulsion process that must be carried out as soon as possible. This formula predictably requires the retention of the migrant at the border, which opens a new, poorly defined scenario, which does not seem to fit into the Spanish legal framework and which Madrid made clear from the beginning of the negotiations that it did not share.