The European Parliament (EP) has approved a far-reaching reform bill on the European Union's asylum and migration policies. 

Although there was uncertainty before the vote due to opposition voices from the right and left wings, the bill was adopted by a small margin on Wednesday afternoon. 

"Today is a historic day," said EP President Roberta Metsola, "We have listened, we have acted and we have addressed one of the main concerns of people in Europe." 

The final step for the agreement, called the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, is a green light from member states at the end of the month. 

The agreement sets common and predictable rules to govern the reception and resettlement of asylum seekers. 

Since the 2015-2016 migration crisis, the European Union has failed to establish a common EU policy on asylum seekers and the issue has been a source of political tension. 

The reform, first announced in September 2020, brings together all elements of migration management, including the identification of asylum seekers, their resettlement and speeding up border procedures. 

Passed by 300 votes against 270
The reform's main innovation is a system of "mandatory solidarity" that would require all European Union countries, regardless of size or location, to contribute to easing the pressure on Southern European countries.

The European Commission's ambitious proposal, hundreds of pages long and covering a myriad of issues including fundamental rights, unaccompanied minors, data privacy, financial contributions, detention periods and national security, had slowed down the legislative process. 

Member states had spent years debating and amending the New Pact, and the already complex legislation had become increasingly complex. 

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On December 20, after three years of lengthy negotiations, the European Parliament and the European Council agreed on five chapters to reform migration policy. 

The EP approved the compromise on Wednesday, albeit by a smaller margin than initially expected due to opposition. The five articles received an average of 300 votes in favor and 270 against.

The vote was delayed for several minutes as protesters threw paper airplanes at MEPs and chanted "This deal kills, vote no!".

Breathing a sigh of relief at the pact's approval, the mainstream parties want to boast about the reform in their campaign for June's parliamentary elections, believing it will show Europeans that "the EU delivers". 

But it will take time to answer the question of whether the reform has lived up to expectations, as it will take nearly two years for the laws to fully take effect.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said after the vote that the reform would make "a real difference for all Europeans" by improving border security, speeding up asylum procedures and preventing abusive practices.

What are the five adopted articles?
The Screening Regulation provides for a pre-entry procedure to quickly examine an asylum seeker's profile and collect basic information such as nationality, age, fingerprints and facial image. 
The amended Eurodac Regulation updates Eurodac, a large-scale database that will store biometric evidence collected during the screening process. Instead of counting applications, the database will count applicants and prevent the same person from submitting multiple requests. The minimum age for collecting fingerprints will be lowered from 14 to 6.

The amended Asylum Procedures Regulation (APR) sets out two possible steps for applicants: The traditional asylum procedure, which takes a long time, and the fast-track border procedure, which is planned to take a maximum of 12 weeks. The fast-track border procedure will apply to migrants who pose a risk to national security, provide misleading information or come from low-recognition countries such as Morocco, Pakistan and India. These migrants will not be allowed to enter the country and will instead be held in border facilities, creating a "legal fiction of non-entry".

The Asylum and Migration Management Regulation (AMMR) will establish a system of "mandatory solidarity", giving member states three options to manage migration flows: relocate a certain number of asylum seekers, pay 20,000 euros for each applicant they refuse to relocate, or finance operational support.

The Crisis Regulation provides for exceptional rules to be triggered when the bloc's asylum system is threatened by a sudden and massive influx of refugees, as in the 2015-2016 crisis, or by force majeure, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In these cases, national authorities will be allowed to impose tougher measures, including longer registration and detention periods, and the Commission will be empowered to request additional "solidarity" measures.