The signature by Belgium of the United Nations pact on migration, promised to the assembly by prime minister Charles Michel in New York in September, looked to be in jeopardy this week as the coalition party N-VA threatened not to back the proposal to sign. “We will not sign off on this text,” said a spokesperson for Theo Francken, federal secretary of state for asylum and migration and a man tipped as a future N-VA leader. According to the party, the Global Pact for Migration is in conflict with the Belgian government’s own governing accords, established in 2014. The pact would also help perpetuate the “illegal migration chaos” which is at present “destroying Europe,” the spokesperson said.
The migration pact rises out of an idea launched two years ago by the former UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon,” explained Nicolas Van Nuffel, part of the advocacy team for the NGO partnership CNCD-11.11.11. “There were long negotiations lasting two years between the member states, resulting in an interesting text which defines 23 objectives to be attained to allow migration to take place correctly in the interests of everyone.”
The discussion of the pact, Van Nuffel said, represented a return to multilateralism, with all parties seated at the table until two months ago, when two member states pulled out – the United States and Hungary, both of whose leaders – Donald Trump and Victor Orban – have taken a hard-line approach to migrants entering their territory from neighbouring lands.
Not only were NGOs in the field consulted as part of the negotiation, the Belgian government detailed a senior diplomat to cover nothing else – a sort of migration attaché. In addition, government representatives – including none other than Theo Francken – also took part in negotiations.
The lack of the backing of the N-VA, the largest party in the government, places Michel in a difficult situation. Back in September, he took to the podium in the UN and said “My government will sign the global pact on migration in Marrakesh in December.” Without the backing of his main coalition party, he will not have the authority to do anything of the sort, leaving Belgium in the unenviable company of Trump’s America and Orban’s Hungary.
Speaking to the RTBF, Nicolas Van Nuffel tried to place the pact in context: “You have to understand that this is a declaration which is absolutely not binding. This is not a new Geneva Convention which is mandatory on states. The interesting thing about a declaration like this, at a time when multilateralism is ill, and our migration policies are ailing, is that it changes the way of looking at things, and puts in place long-term objectives to allow us to treat migration for what it is: a phenomenon deeply anchored in the history of humanity.”