The European Parliament is “very united” in combatting a member state push to oblige developing countries to take back their migrants in return for receiving trade benefits under the EU’s revised General Scheme of Preferences, said the parliament’s lead negotiator.
Speaking at an international trade committee meeting, Heidi Hautala said that the MEPs continue to oppose what she termed EU capitals’ “uncompromising approach” to introducing readmission obligations for beneficiary countries.
Hautala said that the toughest resistance to the parliament’s position comes from Paris “but it’s not at all the only country”.
The Green MEP said that she does not expect any progress to be made on the file until the autumn when Spain is in the presidency role.
“The council is extremely persistent,” she said.
The European Parliament and the EU member states have been locked in trilogue negotiations over the new GSP system which is due to enter into force on 1 January 2024.
Talks between the institutions have stalled over a controversial move backed by EU member states to condition tariff preference continuation on beneficiary countries complying with migrant return agreements they signed with the EU or its member states.
The parliament opposes the readmission provision.
Civil society and business lobbying
Hautala said that civil society and business have begun to lobby against making readmission of migrants a condition of the EU’s new GSP on the basis that such conditionality does not belong in a trade instrument.
“The council has to understand that it has to make moves on this issue, which risks stopping the whole review process,” said Hautala. “Very soon the council has to realise that ball is in their court.”
International trade committee chair Bernd Lange said the council position was “totally unacceptable”.
“We have discussed a lot, we moved as a parliament, we are flexible,” the Lange said. “And on this question of readmission, the council didn’t move an iota.”.
Lange also confirmed that the commission is preparing to roll over the expiring legislation into 2024 if there is no agreement among the co-legislator.
Such a move would come as a relief to current GSP beneficiaries which are worried about what will happen should there be no agreement by 1 January.
Hautala remains optimistic that a deal can ultimately be found.
“This is not a disaster,” she said. “I am still confident that with a bit more time and more push and public help, we will get there.”
“It is important that we get the instrument right, rather than quickly,” Hautala said.
Rice import safeguard
A second point of contention concerns an import safeguard clause for rice. Hautala appeared positive that an outcome is within reach.
“I am confident we will find a good solution which is a decent balance between opening trade to the poorest countries and protecting European rice producers,” Hautala said.