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European Union lawmakers approve an overhaul of migration laws

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Earlier this month, the European Parliament narrowly adopted a set of laws that will make it tougher for migrants seeking asylum to stay in the EU without a valid reason. This comes after nearly a decade of political wrangling and a recent increase in asylum-seekers. More than a million asylum applications were filed in 2023. Now, to understand how the new EU pact works, I spoke with Spanish politician Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, who is a member of the European parliament.

JUAN FERNANDO LOPEZ AGUILAR: We are well aware that migration on asylum used to be the sole responsibility of national member states of the European Union. We all know that the governments of the member states are very much interested in enhancing the controlled scrutiny of who is entering the territory of the European Union. But we, in the European Parliament, we are bound to strike a balance between shared responsibility and solidarity - obligatory solidarity - not only among member states but also towards migrants and asylum-seekers.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So I'm going to get to that shared responsibility in just a second. I want to know, though, how you identify who deserves asylum and who does not.

LOPEZ AGUILAR: Of course, there are criteria to tell the difference between those who credibly make a case of fleeing from prosecution because of their identity, because of their belief, because of their ideology, or because of their gender or sexual orientation and those who simply are coming from a country in despair or representing a generational frame, lacking opportunities. There are always criteria.

MARTÍNEZ: So one of the things I saw in the pact was that was a maximum 12-week turnaround. So rejection of asylum could result in forceable returns to a home country within that 12-week span. Have you gotten any reaction to that, to possible forcible returns to a home country?

LOPEZ AGUILAR: It goes without saying that migration on asylum have emerged as the most divisive, challenging issue in the European agenda, extremely tough to negotiate. So in the end, yes, ministers of interior were actually, actually adamant about speeding up the returns of those not eligible for asylum and not eligible to stay because they came to the European Union irregularly in the first place. But implementing returns takes a real lot of negotiation of agreements with countries of transit and origin, and it takes a lot of European diplomacy for that.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, if a migrant, say, is allowed into the EU, but they're not going to stay in Spain, Italy, or Greece, what is the process for determining where they will go? Which country will receive them?

LOPEZ AGUILAR: When it comes to asylum-seekers, finally, there will be a European solidarity network, which will help the member states under pressure to be relieved as to the distribution of those asylum-seekers in all of the member states - not only in the member state having an external border exposed to irregular migration, which is the case of the Canaries in Spain, which is the case of Lampedusa in Italy or which is the case of the Greek islands because of their vicinity to the Mediterranean, which is the main source of irregular migration towards the European Union.

MARTÍNEZ: How will the pact be enforced?

LOPEZ AGUILAR: That is a challenge for the next mandate of the European Parliament for sure. Yes, the European legal system does not dissolve the member states. It relies on the commitment of the member states to comply with EU law. There are some member states who argue that migration is a threat. Some others argue that migration is a challenge. And some others argue that migration is just a fact. It has always been a fact in the history of mankind. It only needs to be handled properly with common rules according to our principles, according to EU fundamental standards, which, by the way, are, in my view, the highest in the world.

MARTÍNEZ: This pact won't start, though, for another two years, when it's implemented. How will you know that it is making a difference?

LOPEZ AGUILAR: It'll take time, but you know what? The new law makes a difference. Putting in place a system will mean that we will be stronger altogether, and we will be less fragile and less vulnerable of this action-reaction kind of dynamic that has been heavily criticized in the European Parliament through the years. So we hopefully are putting an end to that kind of a negative dynamic.

MARTÍNEZ: Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar is a member of the European Parliament. He joined us from Brussels, Belgium. Thank you very much for explaining this.

LOPEZ AGUILAR: Thank you so much for the talk.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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