22nd Mar 2018

Opt-outs to poke holes in EU migration policy

  • In terms of absolute numbers, Germany hosts the most Syrian refugees (Photo: Songkran)

Germany, Sweden, France, and Italy last year accounted for almost two-thirds of all positive decisions on asylum claims in the EU.

The figures, released on Tuesday (12 May) by the EU’s statistical office, Eurostat, say 185,000 people were granted protection in 2014, up almost 50 percent on to 2013.

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Around a third are Syrians, with most ending up in either Germany or Sweden.

The figures put into perspective a controversial proposal by the European Commission to impose a mandatory distribution system on asylum claimants and refugees throughout the EU.

Germany and France back the plan, but resistance has already surfaced from the UK and Hungary.

“This proposal ... was partly inspired by proposals made by France. It's reasonable that there should be a redistribution of the numbers in the European Union,” French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL on Monday.

The UK Home Office, for its part, told British media it “will oppose any EU commission proposals to introduce a non-voluntary quota.”

Human rights NGOs like the idea, but say using criteria like GDP and population size to distribute people neglects their personal needs.

Some migrants might have family in one member state but could be dispatched to another to fulfill the new quota.

The idea, which is part of a much larger EU agenda on migration, is set for official release on Wednesday.

A leaked 16-page draft of the policy notes the commission will table legislation by the end of 2015 “to provide for a mandatory and automatically-triggered relocation system”.

The draft says the commission plans to trigger, by the end of May, an emergency response provision in the EU Treaty to distribute "persons in clear need of international protection."

The provision can be used in case of a “sudden inflow of nationals of third countries” but needs a qualified majority vote in the EU Council, representing member states, to be adopted.

The European Parliament only has to be consulted and has no real input.

UK, Ireland, and Denmark

Not everyone will have to join the new emergency system, but legal wrangling is already taking place.

The UK and Ireland have special “opt-in” rights in the area of freedom, security and home affairs – including everything that concerns asylum and migration.

The two negotiated their positions when the EU asylum rules were revamped in 2013.

It means they have three months to decide after a proposal is presented if they want to participate.

"They can choose if they wish to participate in the measure or not," EU commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud told reporters in Brussels.

Denmark, for its part, has an “opt-out” clause and doesn’t participate at all in justice and home affairs issues.

All three are full members of the EU’s flagship asylum policy, known as the Dublin regulation.

The EU-wide rule requires the point of entry country to process asylum claims on behalf of all member states.

Game changer on Dublin rules

But imposing a mandatory quota system may generate wider legal implications on who processes and deals with asylum claims in the first place.

“It will be hugely controversial politically,” said Sergio Carrera, a migration expert at the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies.

“It will change the rules of the game because Dublin has a very clear criteria on entry. Now responsibility will be determined differently if this goes ahead”.

He added: “How you are going to prevent that we end up with a system, which has the same Achilles heel as Dublin, meaning that the personal circumstances and situation of the asylum seeker is not taken into account? This will be a major weakness.”

Kris Pollet, a policy advisor at the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles, said the redistribution rules and opt-outs could create diverging asylum reception standards.

“It might get more difficult to transfer asylum seekers to these countries [UK, Ireland, and Denmark],” he said.

He also noted that sending an asylum seeker based on bureaucratic criteria neglects their needs.

“Most likely it might result in people ending up in countries like Latvia or Slovakia where there is little prospect for them to integrate,” he said.

Military action underpins EU migration plan

The EU commission has unveiled its migrant quota system, as ministers get set for talks on military operations to destroy migrant smuggler boats in Libya.

France opposes EU migrant quotas

France and Poland have joined a growing list of EU states opposed to the European Commission's migrant quota proposal.


EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery

The EU-Turkey deal was agreed two years ago in Brussels. Focus has largely been on reducing migrant flows across the Mediterranean and helping Syrian refugees in Turkey, while the plight of those on the Greek islands are ignored.

Whistleblower fears for life as US arrests Malta bank chair

US authorities have arrested the chair of the Maltese-registered Pilatus Bank for tax evasion. The bank facilitated political corruption in Malta but its whistleblower is now facing jail in Malta and fears for her life.


Why has central Europe turned so eurosceptic?

Faced with poorer infrastructure, dual food standards and what can seem like hectoring from western Europe it is not surprising some central and eastern European member states are rebelling.

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