2024 Will Be Another Challenging Year for EU Policy-Makers

The buiding of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium (Photo: Sebastien Bertrand / Flickr.com)

All the European countries with a high proportion of immigrants were hit amid domestic pressure to tackle immigration last year. Ahead of domestic and EU elections, the stakes are still high for German head of government Olaf Scholz and his French and UK counterparts Emmanuel Macron, and Rishi Sunak.

Far-right and anti-migrant political parties, which offer drastic solutions, are becoming more popular in Western democracies. This trend is causing mainstream parties to suffer losses. We have witnessed this phenomenon in the Netherlands, where the Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders won the majority of the votes. What changes are expected in immigration policies, resulting from shifts in political preferences?

United Kingdom: The Long Battle for Rwanda

The British Prime Minister has been continuously under pressure from the voters and in parallel his own Conservative party about his stance not being enough strong in immigration. Tory party prominents fear voters will punish them because of the failure of the so-called Rwanda plan.

The majority of Brits are disappointed because seven years after the decisive Brexit vote, they are no closer to achieving what pro-Brexit campaigners promised: to take back control of migration. In 2023 the UK chalked up record net migration figures, with 672 000, a record high in four years.

The pressure is due to a migration issue regarding the high numbers of undocumented migrants arriving crossing the English Channel. In an attempt to resolve this, the British PM created a deal with Rwanda to deport these arrivals there until their cases are decided. However, this, another key legislation promise made by Rishi Sunak, was struck down by the Supreme Court. This was due to the issue of whether Rwanda is a safe enough country to make such an agreement. Sunak’s commitment to the deal ignited a war between the Tories.

The British PM just survived his party’s rebellion over the proposed Safety of Rwanda bill, and he also managed to pass by the House of Commons on 12 December, last year.

The bill will now go to the committee stage, but Sunak still faces a brutal battle in order to the bill become effective.

The time is running out for him and the conservatives due to the upcoming election where they are predicted to face their worst defeat in decades.

Biritsh Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the Vilnius NATO Summit in 2023 (Photo: Number 10 / Flickr.com / Wikimedia Commons)
Biritsh Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the Vilnius NATO Summit in 2023 (Photo: Number 10 / Flickr.com / Wikimedia Commons)

France: Could Migration Policy Start the Downfall for the “Macronism”?

The French President is facing challenges due to a lack of parliamentary support, making it difficult for him to pass any legislation through the National Assembly. Emmanuel Macron’s proposed immigration law, which was designed to appeal to both conservatives and center-left, failed to gain approval from the National Assembly on the first day of debates. A joint committee of senators and MPs was established to negotiate a deal, but their revised text ended up being harsher than the initial draft, as the Senate is dominated by the centre-right.

President Macron believes that such legislation is necessary to combat illegal migration. The draft bill aims to make family reunification more difficult for migrants and includes measures to limit the number of arrivals in France through quotas. One of the most controversial proposals is a mandatory five-year wait for legal immigrants to apply for social security benefits, which can be reduced to 30 months if the applicant has a job.

In conclusion, the bill was passed but the President had to pay the costs of victory. Macron needed the votes of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (NR), while his Renaissance party was split during the debate.

Speculation started about the president having lost his ability to govern a country, and according to the latest polls, NR may be able to capitalize on Macron’s failure, for example in the European elections.

Germany: End of the Willkommenskultur?

Migration has been on top of the political agenda in Germany – the other problem is the economic downfall – for months, with asylum applications rising to their highest levels since the 2015 refugee crisis. More than 250 000 people applied for asylum in Germany in the period from January to September, compared to more than 130 000 to the same period of 2022. The number of applications rose by 73 percent in a year.

The latest influx has posed an almost unresolvable challenge to national and local governments alike, which have struggled to find housing and other services for the migrants, not to mention the necessary funds.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz – similarly to his European colleagues – is under pressure to limit the number of refugees entering Germany. To address this issue, Germany has reintroduced border checks with its Eastern and Southern land borders, although this has not completely resolved the problem. On the contrary, the anti-immigrant party, Alternative for Germany, has gained support and is expected to do well in three state elections in September 2024 in eastern Germany. As a result, the center-right is hardening its position on migration and turning away from the former open borders policy of Merkel.

The Scholz cabinet has also set new immigration policy priorities for 2024. The government has committed to deporting rejected asylum applicants in larger numbers under the Repatriation Improvement Act.

They have also announced an extension of the asylum detention time and a reduction in the application process from over two years to between three to six months. Asylum seekers will also receive fewer benefits, with welfare payments now accessible only after three years instead of 18 months.

However, recognizing the needs of the industry, lawmakers have made it easier for skilled workers to immigrate to Germany.

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