Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

EU asylum reform ideas hit wall of opposition

  • Over 1 million people arrived in the EU last year, mostly via Greece (Photo: Reuters)

Opposition to mandatory EU mechanisms for sharing asylum seekers between member states are throwing doubt on the European Commission’s proposed reforms to the bloc’s asylum laws.

The commission on Wednesday (6 April) floated two main options on how to update the so-called Dublin asylum regime.

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Both ideas in its “communication” include permanent methods on how to share applicants, which have already created controversy in central Europe.

Slovakia and Hungary have filed legal cases at the EU Court of Justice against a temporary migrant quota system, after being outvoted last September on the matter.

The Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania have also voiced opposition.

“Permanent quotas once again? How long will the EU commission keep riding this dead horse instead of working on things that really help?” Tomas Prouza, Czech state secretary for European affairs tweeted on Wednesday.

The Dublin system puts the burden of processing claims and providing welfare or handling returns on those countries where applicants first enter the bloc.

It has put severe pressure on Greece and Italy.

“The present system is not working,” EU commission vice president Frans Timmermans said on Wednesday, adding that it is “not fair or not sustainable given the number of people” coming to Europe.

One new option put forward by the commission is to keep the current system, but to introduce a “corrective fairness mechanism” for redistribution in emergency situations.

This would result in relocation of asylum seekers from a front-line country if it was at risk of being overwhelmed.

Another more “radical” option, as one EU official called it, is to replace the Dublin first-country-of-entry principle with a “distribution key” whereby states share out asylum claims on the basis of wealth, population and other socio-economic factors.

“It automatically creates a redistribution among member states,” Timmermans pointed out.

According to a commission official, participating in the scheme would be mandatory for member states.

“It would have to be a mandatory system to make it work, otherwise it is not possible to have an orderly system of distribution of asylum seekers,” said the official.

But countries reluctant to take in refugees are not impressed.

“Both options cross the red line for us,” said a diplomat from a central European country, adding that the options still need to be thoroughly analysed.

Czech interior minister Milan Chovanec also tweeted: “The proposed reform of European migration policy is being built to introduce mandatory quotas. To those we have repeatedly said No. Quotas are simply not working.”

Hungary's government had earlier called for a referendum against refugee quotas and put up billboards opposing a quota-based scheme.

Diplomats from eastern and central European countries have been arguing that quotas are a pull-factor for asylum seekers and economic migrants.

They also say their countries are willing to participate in other forms of solidarity, like sending staff or equipment to help process asylum claims in front-line states or to protect the bloc’s external borders from irregular crossings.

The options are expected to be discussed among member states’ interior ministers on 21 April in Luxembourg.

The commission is to come forward with a formal legal proposal “before the summer.”

It will also have to win the approval of the European Parliament.

In the EU Council, where member states meet, the final decision will be taken by a qualified majority vote, which means that reluctant countries could be once again forced to comply.

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