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4th Dec 2021

MEPs: EU migrant quotas do have a future

  • Wikstrom (c) says her Dublin report is supported by the EU Commission. (Photo: European Parliament)

Asylum seekers arriving in Europe would likely end up in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia under the latest proposal put forward by the European Parliament.

MEPs on the civil liberties committee on Thursday (19 October) overwhelmingly backed a proposal that is likely to pivot the parliament against a small group of migrant-hostile EU states, led by Hungary.

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The proposal seeks to impose mandatory migrant quotas and strip non-complying member states of EU funding in an effort to revamp a key EU asylum law.

Steered through the parliament by Swedish liberal MEP Cecilia Wikstroem, the reform aims to completely revamp the so-called 'Dublin' asylum rule, which is supposed to determine the country responsible for processing asylum claims.

The vote came ahead of a gathering of EU leaders and heads of state in Brussels and followed comments by Donald Tusk, the European Council chief, who had outright dismissed any future for mandatory migrant quotas.

"The person being isolated today is basically Donald Tusk," she responded.

Wikstroem maintains her proposal would likely be accepted by most member states should it go to a so-called qualified majority vote in ministers' meetings.

"There is no blocking minority in Council [on the issue] and I know because I have had more than 50 conversations with ministers all over Europe," she said.

A qualified majority vote is unlikely given the preference for unanimity decisions when it comes to asylum rules among EU states.

The committee vote gives MEPs a mandate, unless struck down by the plenary, to start negotiations with member states in an effort to unblock a legislative bill that has riled governments in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

All four, along with others, have balked at a two-year EU relocation scheme to take in asylum seekers from Greece and Italy.

Diplomats in Brussels among other EU states have told reporters that the Dublin reform is at a standstill and unlikely to shift anytime soon.

"Migration is the crisis on which the EU is building its future. How we solve it will define the future," said one EU official.

Mandatory relocation, EU funding fines

But the EU parliament proposal demands a "permanent and automatic relocation mechanism without thresholds" calculated on GDP and population size.

People deemed eligible for asylum will be able to choose where they want to go if they have family or other "genuine" links like a previous job or a university degree in that member state of choice.

No link means they'll have an option to choose among the four EU states allocated the least number of asylum seekers.

Although EU states would be given a three-year phase-in transition for the new plans to work, the countries likely to be the initial hosts of new arrivals with no links are also the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

"It means if the person enters Greece, chooses to go to Hungary, God forbid, then that person is then allocated to Hungary," said Wikstroem.

Should Hungary refuse, then its access to the EU funding may be pulled or limited.

The Dublin overhaul also removes its current key provision that requires the member state of first entry to process asylum claims.

"This system is not only unfair, it is also ineffective, as the recent migration crisis has demonstrated only too clearly," said European Parliament president, Antonio Tajani.

Italy and Greece, which are overwhelmed with asylum seeker claims compared to most EU states, would no longer be held responsible for processing their claims.

Over the years, many have slipped through the countries and fanned out towards northern EU states like Germany and Sweden. The moves have seen the rise of internal border checks amid broader fears that the passport-free Schengen area is at risk.

Iverna McGowan, director of Amnesty International's Europe office, has described the proposal as a step in the right direction.

"Today's vote paves the way towards a system that will provide dignity to asylum seekers, by prioritising their family ties, as well as fair distribution between European member states," she said.

MEPs from centre-right EPP, socialist S&D, liberal Alde, Greens/EFA and the far-left GUE/NGL voted 43-16 in favour of Wikstroem's draft report.

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