Under far-right pressure, Europe retreats from UN migration pact

BERLIN, GERMANY – JANUARY 17: New Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (not pictured) speak to the media following talks at the Chancellery on January 17, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. Kurz became Austrian chancellor and heads a coalition government between his party, the center-right Austrian People’s Party (OeVP), and the far-right Austria Freedom Party (FPOe). Merkel and Kurz have differing views on several issues, most notably immigration, as Kurz has touted a more hard-line approach. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Populists seize chance to put favorite issue on agenda ahead of EU vote, causing ructions among governments.

A previously obscure 34-page, jargon-filled document is causing political convulsions across Europe — even though it’s not even legally binding.Italy this week became the latest in a string of European countries to say it would not sign the U.N.’s Global Compact on Migration at a ceremony in Marrakech in just under two weeks. From the Netherlands through Belgium and Germany to Slovakia, the pact has triggered infighting in ruling parties and governments, with at least one administration close to breaking point.The fight over the pact illuminates how migration remains a combustible issue across the Continent, three years after the 2015 refugee crisis and with next May’s European Parliament election on the horizon. Far-right parties keen to make migration the key campaign issue have seized on the pact while some mainstream parties have sought to steal their thunder by turning against the agreement. Liberals and centrists, meanwhile, have found themselves on the defensive — arguing that the agreement poses no harm and migration is best handled through international cooperation.Louise Arbour, the senior U.N. official overseeing the pact, said she is surprised by the controversy, as diplomats from 180 countries — including many that have now pulled out — signed off on the text last summer after two years of negotiations.

The initiative was launched at the request of Europe after the migration surge of 2015, Arbour said. The countries now having “second thoughts or misgivings” were very active during the negotiations and “extracted compromises from the others,” she told POLITICO in an interview.