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20th Apr 2019

Interview

Refusing refugees should cost EU funds, MEP says

  • Cecilia Wikstroem wants to turn the Dublin system into an instrument of solidarity. "My job is to turn a square into a circle," Cecilia Wikstroem said. (Photo: European Parliament)

EU countries who refuse to help others with refugees could lose EU funds, if EU parliamentarian Cecilia Wikstroem gets her way.

The Swedish liberal is responsible for the European Parliament’s position on a reform of the Dublin regulation, which defines what EU country is responsible for handing a migrant's asylum claim.

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She spoke to EUobserver on Wednesday (25 January), before EU ministers gathered in Malta to discuss ways of renewing the discredited system.

"It's impossible to keep it as now," Wikstroem said.

Most of the people who sought asylum in the EU in recent years have filed their applications in just a few countries. Germany, a large, rich country where many people have family links, has taken the lion's share. Other countries, especially those from the former soviet bloc, have seen almost none.

The European Commission proposed last May that whenever a country faces a disproportionate number of applications, responsibility for new applicants will be transferred to other member states.

The EU executive also suggested that those who refuse to show solidarity must pay €250,000 for each refugee they fail to take. The proposal caused an outcry from the Visegrad quartet - Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - in particular.

Wikstroem said she had scrapped the fine, for many reasons.

"No group in the parliament would support it, and it would be very complicated to send money around this way. Besides, I don't think we should attach a price tag to anyone's head," she said.

Instead, Wikstroem has charged the parliament's legal service to examine if there is a way to withhold EU funds for countries who break against the system.

It remains to be seen if her proposal will be implemented.

Eastern European countries, the EU bloc's poorest, are also the ones to receive most EU funding. They are adamant to not take refugees and say they would rather help by securing EU borders.

But Wikstroem said she had tried to include many incentives for countries to be cooperative.

"The commission's proposal was only whips. I have also included carrots, to make it more balanced," she said.

Child focus

The lawmaker will unveil her report to European Parliament's committee for civic liberties, LIBE, for a first exchange of views on 9 March.

She said one over-arching aim of her work was to render the system more child-friendly.

"Children should feel safe with the system, and it should be adapted to them so they don't get hurt," Wikstroem said.

Europol said last year that 10,000 migrant children had gone missing in the EU. According to NGOs, some disappear because they have family in another EU country, and leave to join them before their process is concluded.

Wikstroem agreed, and said family reunification should take place before the admissibility assessment kicks off.

There should also be more focus on registering everyone as soon as they made their way to the EU.

Wikstroem has in the past been a fierce critic of sending children "like parcels" over Europe, but said that she no longer backed the idea that children's asylum claims should be dealt with the country they were present in physically.

"We have to avoid that there are things built up in the system that makes Germany and Sweden responsible for all unaccompanied minors and 23 countries do nothing," the lawmaker explained.

"There is no VIP line for children, but I have made some security checks - such as registration, primary family reunification - to make sure children's interests are respected," she said.

Wikstroem said it would take "years" to work out a reform. She would first have to unite MEPs behind amendments, and then find a compromise with the member states.

The EU commission hopes ministers will find an agreement under the Maltese presidency, which ends in June, but Valetta has downplayed expectations and just aims to achieve a convergence of views.

"This is maybe the most difficult piece of legislation that is currently on the table. My job is to make Dublin a solidarity instrument. It's like turning a square into a circle," Wikstroem said.

Computer to make EU asylum decisions

The EU commission has presented sweeping reforms of the "Dublin" asylum regulation that include deferring the most painful decisions to a computer in Malta.

Focus

No opt-outs on migration, says Malta

For the Mediterranean country that just took the EU presidency, the migration crisis is still there and must be addressed internally and externally.

Refusing refugees would cost EU funds, MEP says

The Swedish liberal MEP Cecilia Wikstroem seeks to introduce a five-year transition period for countries that are not ready to take in asylum seekers under the reformed Dublin system.

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