Belgium among the 152 countries that ratified the UN Migration Pact

Migration has been largely governed by rules established in the first half of the century, which did not anticipate that our globalised world and tough local conditions would bring an ever larger number of people to migrate. Since the year 2000, the total number of migrants has increased by 49% to around 260 million people, or approximately 3.4% of the world population. To better manage these flows and to take into account new dynamics behind migration, a new framework was long needed. The war in Syria, the more than 1 million refugees that arrived in Europe in 2015-2016 and the high death toll (over 60,000 died since 2000) of the dangerous Mediterranean crossing provided a much-needed push to put this issue on the international agenda.



Earlier this month in Marrakech, 164 countries got together to sign the Global Compact on Migration. It had been agreed upon by 193 countries in July: all UN states except for the USA. It was formally ratified by an overwhelming majority of 152 countries in the UN this Wednesday. In addition to the USA, other countries that refused to adopt the deal include: Hungary, Austria, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Chile and Australia.

The content of the pact is not binding and lays out some objectives and strategies that its signatories should work towards, including: gathering better data on international migration, minimising factors that compel people to leave their country, providing migrants with a proof of legal identity, reducing vulnerabilities in migration, combating smuggling and people trafficking. It also highlights the fact that all migrants have universal human rights that should be respected regardless of where they are. While the pact does not in any measure reduce national sovereignty on national migration policies, it was perceived to do precisely this by anti-migration governments and parties.



This was heavy in consequences for the “Swedish” coalition in Belgium (because of the yellow and blue colours of the Reform Movement -MR– and New Flemish Alliance -NVA– parties). The coalition was effectively disintegrated after Charles Michel (MR) decided to ratify the pact despite opposition by anti-migration NVA, which simply left the government. Charles Michel has since announced his resignation to the King (who can refuse it). New ways forward are being proposed, including forming a government from the minority coalition  (MR, CD&V, Open Vld).

Early elections seem unlikely, so a minority government could be the solution, although it will effectively only work on policies that have already been approved. This is reminiscent of the period of 541 days in 2010-2011 when Belgium simply could not negotiate the formation of a new government due to very fragmented election results. The heated responses that the Marrakech deal prompted are likely an indication of rocky road ahead to put together a government in a divided country.