The EU has reached a historic agreement on how member states will deal with a sudden increase in the number of people seeking asylum in the event of war, natural disaster or climate emergency.
The new rules will allow frontline states to fast-track asylum applications and move people swiftly to other countries in Europe, avoiding a repeat of 2015 when 1 million refugees came to the EU from Syria and beyond, and some countries accepted far more than others.
The pact was sealed early on Wednesday morning, ending three years of arguments between member states just before 27 EU leaders gather in the Spanish city of Granada on Friday.
“It is a common step forward that #solidarity between member states is mandatory in the event of a crisis,” wrote Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign minister, on X, formerly Twitter.
The deal was struck after Germany and Italy overcame a clash that encapsulated the differing approaches of European governments to tackling migration.
Italy said Germany had “stepped back” from a contentious paragraph that might have prohibited Italian authorities from using the emergency measures to cope with migrants rescued by NGOs. One diplomat in Italy said: “This is a big result for us.”
Writing on X, however, Baerbock said the compromise “[took] into account our suggestions on humanity and order”.
“We have ensured that minimum humanitarian standards such as access to education and healthcare are not weakened during the crisis. Because without #humanity in the crisis there is no #order,” she said.
It is understood Poland and Hungary voted against the deal, while Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia abstained. The new law must still be passed by the European parliament.
The main aim of the deal was to share the burden of migration across the entire EU, with frontline states “able to request solidarity and support measures from the EU and its member states”, said Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gómez, the acting Spanish minister for home affairs.
There will also be an accelerated registration process for asylum seekers in a crisis situation, giving member states just four weeks to do the initial paperwork before asking other countries to accommodate people.
The supporting member state would then take over the responsibility to examine asylum claims, which can often take years.
Last week the European commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johannson, revealed that 250,000 people had arrived in the EU this year through irregular migration, about half of them in Italy.
EU leaders, including the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, have gone out of their way to ensure the rest of the bloc shows solidarity with Rome.
Grande-Marlaska said: “Today, we have achieved a huge step forward on a critical issue for the future of the EU. With today’s agreement we are now in a better position to reach an agreement on the entire asylum and migration pact with the European parliament by the end of this semester.”
Spain had hoped to achieve a deal at an interior ministers’ meeting in Brussels last Thursday, but Italy at the last minute said it would not support the deal after two clauses were drafted to satisfy German concerns about human rights.
Italy wanted a clause allowing for minimum standards in detention centres to be breached in the event of a crisis increase in arrivals, which Germany had objected to. Italy also attacked Germany over its support for NGOs in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.