Thursday

28th Jan 2021

EU states tackle Dublin asylum reform 'line by line'

  • Dublin asylum reform is being negotiated behind closed doors among EU states (Photo: Alice Latta)

A group of experts under the Bulgarian EU presidency is preparing a "zero paper" on how to break the deadlock on a key EU asylum reform known as the 'Dublin' regulation.

The ideas appear to eschew mandatory quotas and seek to give the EU states control over the decision making when it comes to relocating asylum seekers across the EU, according to an EU source.

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Dublin is an EU regulation which designates the member state required to process an asylum seeker application.

But a reform of the law, proposed by the European Commission, includes a plan that would automatically distribute people in need of international protection across EU states.

The European Parliament reached their position but are waiting for member states to do the same before the bill can be negotiated.

Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia view quotas as an anathema and sparked a political crisis when the EU imposed a temporary migrant relocation scheme (which ended in September) in an effort to ease the asylum arrival pressure in Italy and Greece.

Despite attempts by previous EU presidencies, no one has managed to break the Hungarian-led impasse despite European Council chief Donald Tusk announcing that EU migrants quotas have no future.

To untangle the debacle, the Bulgarian EU presidency set up a so-called Friends of the Presidency group, a format said to both diffuse tensions and allow for more flexible discussions at a technical level among EU states.

Although the group has so far gone through the EU commission's proposal following a series of bi-monthly meetings that kicked off in January, resistance appears to have emerged from Hungary ahead of national elections.

The group is set to meet again next week in Sofia and ahead of an EU summit at the end of the month when Bulgaria's prime minister Boyko Borisov will brief leaders on any progress made.

The plan is to reach an agreement among the EU state experts before sending it higher up to their political masters in order to meet an EU deadline at a summit in June.

Talks at the group appear broadly based on a three-phased approach on how to manage refugee inflows, following previous ideas floated by the past EU presidencies.

Each phase triggers another depending on the intensity of the arrivals.

An EU source said efforts have since been made to accommodate Hungarian demands in the first phase of the three step process in the hopes of securing an agreement.

"If no solution is found in June, Tusk will come up with a new proposal," noted the contact.

Interior ministers meeting in Brussels on Thursday have decided not even to discuss the matter - with speculation rising on whether EU states will be able to square any differences with the European parliament should they even reach a position.

In late February, Cecilia Wikstroem, the Swedish liberal MEP who steered the file through the parliament, told an audience at an event organised by the European Policy Centre think tank, that it is inconceivable 28 ministers are still unable to agree.

"We in the parliament have a two-third majority and have gathered the five groups and altogether more than 220 political parties from the European Union. 28 ministers should come up with one common text," she said.

But Ales Chmelar, Czech state secretary for European affairs, speaking along side Wikstroem, said his country has turned against the EU because of it.

"The support of the European Union has halved on one single topic, the relocation scheme, nothing else, not the asylum policy in general, not border control, not help in transit countries," he said.

"My question is whether this is basically worth it."

Magazine

The asylum files: deadlock and dead-ends

The EU is reforming a number of internal asylum laws, but lack of staff, politics, and the sheer complexity of the bills means deadlines - like those announced by EU council chief Tusk - are likely to come and go.

Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June

Divisions on relocating asylum seekers remain entrenched following an EU summit. The east-west divide opens up the possibility of relying on a majority vote for a key asylum in June, further exacerbating disputes among opposing capitals.

Austria EU presidency seeks 'mandatory solidarity' on Dublin

EU interior ministers are meeting in Luxembourg this Friday to discuss migration. The Austrian EU presidency is hoping to reach a consensus on Dublin reforms and a concept of 'mandatory solidarity' after briefing 27 EU states bilaterally over the summer.

EU Parliament pressing for inquiry into Frontex

MEPs are drumming up support for an inquiry into the EU's controversial border and coast guard agency, Frontex. So far, the Greens, the left-wing GUE, and Renew Europe are on board - amid expectations the centre-left S&D will also join.

Turkey snubs Greece on migrant returnees

The Greek government last week requested that the European Commission and EU border agency Frontex help return 1,450 failed asylum seekers to Turkey. Turkey has refused, citing the pandemic.

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