22nd Jan 2018

EU court actions on asylum to multiply

The number of member states threatened with court action on how they apply EU asylum rules is likely to increase.

The Brussels executive earlier this week sent letters warning member states to comply with the rules or risk facing a panel of judges at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

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Natasha Bertaud, a commission spokesperson, told reporters on Tuesday (1 September) that president Jean-Claude Juncker had his services send a new series of “administrative letters”.

She said some had been sent to member states with no pending infringement cases.

“I cannot go into more detail as these are obviously pre-infringement proceedings and this is not something that we generally comment on publicly”, she said.

The European Commission already has 32 infringement cases against 18 member states on how they apply EU-level asylum rules.

Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden are all under commission scrutiny for violations committed against the so-called Common European Asylum System.

The Common European Asylum System is composed of the Dublin regulation, the asylum procedures directive, the reception conditions directive, the qualification directive, and the long-term residence directive.

The move follows expanded oversight powers on justice and home affairs areas by the commission since the start of December last year.

Migration and Schengen pressure

“For Schengen [EU passport-free zone] to work, these rules need to be applied”, Bertaud said.

The threat of reintroducing internal border controls was made by the Austrian and Italian ministers of foreign affairs last week.

Austria has since stepped up security checks on its borders after 71 people, thought to be Syrian refugees, were found dead in the back of a lorry.

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel made similar comments on free-movement in Berlin.

"If we don't succeed in fairly distributing refugees then of course the Schengen question will be on the agenda for many,” she said on Monday.

The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland are meeting in Prague on Friday and are expected to voice their opposition to binding quota systems to relocate asylum seekers throughout EU states.

But pressure is mounting for all member states to take in more.

Some 185,000 first-time asylum seekers applied for protection in the European Union in the first three months of this year.

Estonia, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, and Slovakia took in zero percent of the EU total during the same period, according to Eurostat.

Most ended up in Germany and Hungary.

Frontex, the EU border agency, said more than 23,000 arrived in Greece by sea last week, nearly 50 percent more than in the previous week.

Over 50 people were found dead in the hull of a wooden boat off the coast of Libya last week.

“This was a very dark week. We are deeply saddened by the deaths of migrants near the Libyan shore and in the lorry in Austria”, said Frontex chief Fabrice Leggeri.

Trains packed with migrants arrive in Vienna

Hungary has said Berlin should clarify the legal status of migrants travelling within the EU, as thousands of refugees in Budapest demand to travel to Germany.

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

While ongoing crackdowns in Poland and Hungary have put the spotlight on rights groups, NGOs are now under new political and financial pressure across the EU, the Fundamental Rights Agency said.

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