EU nations increasingly divided over UN migration pact

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Just days before scores of countries sign up to a landmark U.N. migration pact, a number of European Union nations have begun joining the list of those not willing to endorse the agreement. The 34-page U.N. Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is to be formally approved in Marrakech, Morocco, on Dec. 10-11. The drafting process was launched after all 193 U.N. member states, including the United States under President Barack Obama, adopted in 2016 a declaration saying no country can manage international migration on its own and agreed to work on a global compact.

The non-binding U.N. accord, which aims to promote a common approach to growing migrant flows, has become a target for populist politicians who denounce it as an affront to national sovereignty. The United States, under President Donald Trump, pulled out a year ago, claiming that numerous provisions in the pact were "inconsistent with U.S. immigration and refugee policies." Since then, Australia, Israel, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Latvia and the Dominican Republic have either publicly disavowed the pact or notified the United Nations they are not participating.

Despite its non-binding nature, Bulgaria signaled this week that it will not sign the pact, as did Slovakia, whose foreign minister resigned in protest at his government's stance. Meanwhile, Belgium's government was teetering on the brink of collapse, riven by coalition differences over the pact.

But key backers led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be in Morocco to endorse the pact and the U.N. remains upbeat that it can help the world better cope with the hot-button issue. "I am very confident: a large number of states continue to keep their word, they reached agreement on July 13 in New York after very serious and very intense negotiations," U.N. special representative for migration Louise Arbour told AFP.

The arrival in Europe in 2015 of well over 1 million migrants — most fleeing conflict in Syria or Iraq — plunged the EU into a deep political crisis over migration, as countries bickered over how to manage the challenge and how much help to provide those countries hardest hit by the influx. Their inability to agree helped fuel support for anti-migrant parties across Europe. Experts say the pact is an easy target. Leaving it can play well with anti-migrant domestic audiences and pulling out has no obvious negative impacts on governments. "The ones who opposed the global compact, have they read it? It is only a framework of cooperation with all countries," EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Thursday. "It is not binding. It doesn't put in question national sovereignty."

Other EU countries to turn their back on the document are Hungary and Poland, which have opposed refugee quotas aimed at sharing the burden of Mediterranean countries like Italy, Greece and more recently Spain, where most migrants are arriving.

But the withdrawal of Austria — holder of the EU's presidency until the end of the year — has been of high symbolic importance. Conservative Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, in a coalition with the nationalist, anti-migration Freedom Party, announced Austria's departure from the pact in October, highlighting "some points that we view critically and where we fear a danger to our national sovereignty."

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