News Europe Von der Leyen challenges Hungary and Poland over immigration reform

Von der Leyen challenges Hungary and Poland over immigration reform

Von der Leyen challenges Hungary and Poland over immigration reform

By Jorge Liboreiro & Aida Sanchez Alonso

The European Union is reforming the common rules governing the reception and relocation of asylum seekers. Will Spain be able to use its political influence at the head of the presidency of the Council to achieve this?

The European Union is reforming the common rules governing the reception and relocation of asylum seekers.

Ursula von der Leyen made it clear to Poland and Hungary on Monday that decisions on the bloc’s migration policy must be made by a qualified majority, a few days after both countries protested a reform proposal and demanded a unanimous vote.

“That is what the Treaties say and that is what we have fulfilled”, declared the President of the European Commission during an official visit to Madrid.

The dispute began last month when interior ministers reached a tentative agreement on a proposed regulation to set up a new “mandatory solidarity” system, which would give member states three options for managing new arrivals: accept a set number of asylum seekers in their territory, pay 20,000 euros for each rejected applicant or finance operational aid, such as infrastructure and transport.

The deal was hailed as a breakthrough by most European leaders, but was immediately met with fierce opposition from Hungary and Poland, two countries that have long held tough stances on migration.

Hungary and Poland are annoyed that the agreement was reached by a qualified majority – at least 15 Member States representing 65% of the EU population – and not by unanimity, which allows the right to veto to be exercised.

In reaction to what they have described as a “coup” decision, the governments of Viktor Orban and Mateusz Morawiecki demand that any new step in immigration reform be taken by “consensus” and only on a “voluntary basis.”

But von der Leyen rejected the request on Monday, appealing to the voting rules established by the founding treaties.

“The pact for migration and asylum: the first important parts have been decided as the (EU) Treaty wants us to do, in qualified majority voting, and that goes for all the other packages,” said the President of the European Commission, referring to the multi-part review that its executive has proposed.

Von der Leyen noted that the EU is at a “crunch point” and that the change in environment has brought immigration reform closer than ever.

“We want to move forward together,” he said.

His statements were made during a trip to Madrid on the occasion of the start of the six-month Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU. Next to him, the President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sanchez, echoed the words of the President of the European Commission.

“It is in the Treaties. There is no greater political legitimacy than compliance with the Treaties,” said Sanchez when asked about the Hungarian-Polish position.

“Indeed, there is a possibility of advancing on files that have been kept in the drawer for a long time and that, right now, we have a real chance of closing.”

The Spanish leader called for a “constructive approach” in the negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament to reach a final agreement that “is positive for everyone” and strikes a “balance” between responsibility and solidarity.

Sanchez affirmed that closing the agreement during the Spanish Presidency would be “very important” and “symbolic” given Spain’s role as a front-line country and its first-hand experience in past migration crises.

“The most important thing is not to forget that the challenge of irregular immigration must lead us to a common response, a European response, not a response that is an aggregate of national realities,” said Sanchez.

“We also have to overcome this dilemma.”

Source: Euronews Espanol

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