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EU at long last agrees on reform of asylum agency

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It took five years, but there’s finally a deal to strengthen the EU’s asylum agency — and the first sign of real movement on migration in the bloc for years.

The European Parliament and the Council agreed Tuesday to transform the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) into a European Union Agency of Asylum (EUAA) after ministers from Mediterranean countries gave their backing to a temporary agreement.

The original proposal to reform EASO came in May 2016. It arrived in the wake of the migration crisis of 2015-2016 when the Commission put forward proposals with the goal of establishing what EASO’s executive director Nina Gregori described on Tuesday as the “only multinational asylum system in the world.” But it quickly became clear that this was a Herculean task. Last September, the Commission put forward a new proposal, the “Migration pact,” after negotiations hit a wall.

So there was a great deal of enthusiasm after Tuesday’s move.

António Costa, the prime minister of Portugal, which saw the deal arrive in the last days of its presidency, wrote on Twitter: “I enthusiastically note the political agreement reached today.”

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that “this will help make our asylum procedures in the EU faster and more uniform.” The Commission said that 500 new officials will be ready to provide “more effective support to national asylum systems facing a high caseload.”

Gregori added that the mandate to set up the EUAA means “we can become more operational and we can react quicker to the increasing requests of support from member states.”

However, the Mediterranean countries agreed to only partially accept the new mandate. A so-called “sunrise clause” has been included. That means that the new measure will only be fully implemented when an agreement is reached on the rest of a migration package.

For now, diplomats say that no other deals on other proposals, including one to reform Eurodac — the database for registering fingerprints and other biometric data of asylum seekers — are in sight.

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