Tuesday

22nd Jan 2019

EU asylum talks end in weak compromise

  • Avramopoulos and Asselborn: Ministers want to step up external border controls (Photo: European council)

Ministers in Brussels on Monday (14 September) failed to reach a unanimous decision on whether to back a European Commission plan to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers.

Instead they opted for a weakened political agreement following stern opposition from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

An EU source said Poland was lukewarm. Latvia, which did not send a minister to the round table meeting, is also said to be against.

“We were hoping for something stronger”, said the source.

Luxembourg's foreign minster Jean Asselborn, who presided the meeting, told reporters, “not everyone is on board.”

'Willingness'

To add to the confusion, the Luxembourg EU presidency conclusion states “all member states confirm their willingness to participate” in the relocation scheme.

A second EU source said the French had convinced others that “willingness” is the equivalent to “voluntary”.

The source said the statement was not misleading because it is a EU presidency conclusion, which carries much less weight than standard Council conclusions.

The weakened pact follows the drowning deaths of some 15 children and babies off the Greek island of Farmakonisi on Sunday.

But Asselborn said it was “too early for a decision to be taken today” on how to help the thousands of people risking their lives to enter the EU.

He said the Commission’s plan is “a basis for an agreement” to be adopted in October.

“Procedures must be respected”, he added.

The next step is to start discussions at the working group level in the Council, representing member states.

The plan is to have the details sorted so a formal decision can be made at a justice and home affairs meeting in Luxembourg on 8 October.

But another meeting of ministers may be called before the end of the month following a flurry of moves to clamp down on borders by a handful of member states.

Majority

Germany on Sunday imposed border controls with Austria, sparking similar moves by Austria, Slovakia, and Poland. The Netherlands said it would not follow Germany’s lead but would step up border police checks.

"This council allowed to make progress, a qualified majority emerged on the main principles that we wanted to apply," French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said after the meeting.

But EU officials are hoping to avoid a qualified majority vote to push the commission relocation proposal through the deadlock. Forcing a member state to accept people it does not want could create a host of other problems, noted one EU official.

Meanwhile, they adopted an initial commission plan to relocate 40,000 from Greece and Italy over a two-year period. Ministers in July came up short with around 32,000 but agreed to fulfill the remainder pledges before the end of the year.

The long debate on relocation was underpinned by other agreements to toughen external border controls and set in motion a stronger return policy to expel anyone with no rights to reside in the EU.

“We need to make sure our external borders are better protected”, said EU commission vice-president Frans Timmermans.

Camps

Special centres to quarantine new arrivals will be set up in Greece where people will be fingerprinted, identified, and registered. Anyone who doesn’t meet requirements for international protection could be detained until sent home.

The EU border agency, Frontex, will have a more active role in removing people.

The plan also includes setting up a so-called EU country of safe origin list. The list, set to include Western Balkan countries, would allow member states to more quickly dispatch rejected asylum seekers.

Asselborn said Turkey would not be on the list.

They also agreed to step up funding for Syrian refugee camps run by United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNCHR).

Some 4 million Syrians live in the camps. More than half are in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. Turkey hosts 1.9 million Syrians and another 24,000 are registered in North Africa.

The extra funding will come from the EU budget and member states.

“The crisis will last as long as our neighbourhood is on fire”, said EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Germany piles on the pressure in refugee talks

Chancellor Merkel called for an emergency EU Summit on asylum next week, a few hours after her interior minister hinted at cuts in EU funding for countries opposed to sharing refugees.

Frontex in dire need of border guards

Europe's border agency is understaffed on the Greek islands and EU borders with Turkey and Serbia, while EU member states haven't delivered on guards and equipment requests.

Refugee crisis prompts snap EU summit

EU leaders are to hold emergency talks next Wednesday, amid EU border crackdowns and disagreements on how to share 120,000 refugees.

Eight EU states take migrants stranded on NGO boats

France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania have agreed to relocate the 49 migrants stuck on two NGO boats moored, for almost three weeks, off Malta's coast.

News in Brief

  1. May U-turn on fee for EU nationals in UK
  2. French data watchdog gives Google €50m fine
  3. EU hits Russians with sanctions over Salisbury attack
  4. 'Don't look for answers to Brussels', EU tells UK
  5. Germany warns UK not to 'misuse' EU patience on Brexit
  6. Germany sent 8,658 asylum-seekers to other EU states
  7. Poll: Macron popularity up four percent
  8. 'Economy is broken' says Oxfam in global inequality report

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Turkish NBA star takes on Erdogan
  2. 'Meme ban' still on table in EU copyright bill, says MEP
  3. Brexit power grab by MPs hangs over May's 'Plan B'
  4. Polish mayor's funeral marred by Tusk TV dispute
  5. Salvini and Kaczynski - the new 'axis' powers?
  6. Seven member states miss climate plan deadline
  7. Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK
  8. Germany led way on EU rights protection

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us