Saturday

25th Nov 2017

'Solidarity' eludes EU interior ministers on migration

EU interior ministers on Thursday (26 January) were grappling with broader questions on solidarity when it comes to people applying for international protection.

At a meeting in Malta's capital city Valletta, the ministers were unable to decide on how asylum seekers will be distributed following a proposal to overhaul Dublin, an EU law that determines who is handling applications.

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German interior minister Thomas de Maziere told reporters that discussions are under way to possibly turn Dublin into three-tier system based on the number of arrivals.

"After the number of refugees goes beyond a certain threshold, the refugees that arrive in Europe, another system is needed, a system that eases the countries of first arrival, a system of solidarity," he said.

The idea is based on the Slovak presidency paper on "effective solidarity" floated late last year. The paper outlined three scenarios based on various intensities of inflows that determined the level of engagement of EU states.

Carmelo Abela, Malta's interior minister, speaking on behalf of the EU presidency, said details still needed to be worked out and that the idea was far from complete.

"There might be different grades and different stages of how to implement in principle this agreement. So, this is the kind of discussion we are having," he said.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos did not dismiss it either, but noted that "the devil is in the detail."

The EU commission's Dublin overhaul last summer included plans that would allow an EU state to offload applicants to another in case of overload. Dubbed the "fairness mechanism", it is based on a reference key that would automatically trigger an allocation without any formal decision making.

The issue riled some member states, with the EU Slovak presidency proposing various "solidarity" alternatives to allow governments more choices in how they want to ease the refugee and asylum crisis.

Last year it proposed a "flexible solidarity" approach, which then morphed into an "effective solidarity" paper circulated among ministers in November.

Malta, which now presides the six-month rotating presidency, had put the issue on its agenda at the ministerial meeting on Thursday, but an EU diplomat told reporters that the ministers were still hoping to unblock broader disputes on how the Dublin's "fairness mechanism" would work in practice.

"There is a will to find a common solution and a mechanism that this will ensure that we avoid crises in the future, that is the whole idea," noted the source.

She said ministers had also mulled other ways on how member states could alleviate pressure on the refugee crisis.

De Maziere, ahead of the meeting, appeared to back the commission's Dublin reforms.

"If few refugees are coming we could stay with the current, but reformed Dublin rules. If countries, where migrants arrive first, have a special burden, than a distribution mechanism would be applied," he told reporters.

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