17th Mar 2018

Germany and Austria mull new EU asylum rules

  • The number of refugees arriving in the EU has dipped with the onslaught of winter (Photo: Michael Gubi)

Germany and Austria are working on a new European common asylum system that will expand on so-called hotspots where arrivals are screened and registered.

The plan was revealed over the weekend by Germany's refugee crisis coordinator Peter Altmaier in an interview with German magazine Focus.

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Hotspots are already used to relocate people seeking international protection from Greece and Italy to other member states.

But the Greek-Italy scheme has been hit with numerous setbacks. Out of the 11 hotspots announced, only one each in Greece and Italy are considered operational.

Altmaier said asylum application decisions, under the new plans, would also take place at hotspots.

"Those who get a positive decision will then be distributed around EU countries according to a formula and the actual asylum application will then be carried out in those countries," he said.

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

But with the vast majority of asylum seekers lodging their applications in only a handful of member states, the EU-wide asylum system is only 'common' in name. Germany, Sweden, Italy, France and Hungary had fielded almost all the applications in 2014.

The EU has launched dozens of infringement cases against member states for not applying the asylum rules as required. In September, it launched 40 on top of 34 other pending cases. And earlier this month, the EU executive threatened to take Greece, Croatia, Italy, Malta and Hungary to court.

German frustration was highlighted in October when finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble spoke out against the current system and announced a new one was needed.

Some one million people arrived in the EU this year seeking protection. Many are Syrians and Iraqis fleeing war and persecution.

Of those, more than 400,000 refugees are estimated to have arrived in Greece since the start of October. A large number travel through the Western Balkans before transiting Austria to get to Germany or Sweden.

For his part, Austria's Chancellor Werner Faymann said people not qualifying for asylum need to be deported.

"We cannot pretend that all refugees actually have grounds for asylum," he told Austrian daily Oesterreich over the weekend.

Only around 40 percent of people issued a return decision in 2014 in the EU had actually left. Faymann says deportations need to be intensified.

The German-Austrian move comes amid their increasing backlash against eastern Europe states for not taking in more refugees.

EU leaders in September had agreed to distribute 160,000 asylum seekers arriving in Italy and in Greece to other member states over a two-year period. Only around 200 have so far been relocated.

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned eastern states like the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, risk legal actions should they refuse to partake in the relocation plan.

"If it can't be done any other way, then things will have to be clarified using judicial means," Steinmeier told Der Spiegel magazine.

Faymann said funding and subsidies from the EU for eastern states could be cut.

A similar threat was unveiled last week by European parliament chief Martin Schulz during an EU summit on migration in Brussels.

"Net contributors are countries bearing the heaviest burden in terms of receiving refugees, whereas beneficiary countries are not doing their part, for the most part", he said.

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