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13th Dec 2019

EU asylum reform on life support

  • Member state efforts to create a common European asylum system is in dire straights (Photo: Fotomovimiento)

In April, a senior European Commission official told MEPs that the reform of the EU's so-called Dublin asylum law will not really work unless other outstanding legislative files are also taken care of.

Her warning appears to have fell flat, as EU interior ministers met in Brussels on Tuesday (5 June).

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EU states have yet to reach a negotiating mandate on the asylum procedures regulation, one of seven EU legislative files which, as a whole, are to revamp the common European asylum system.

Paraskevi Michou, director-general for migration, had described the asylum procedures as "very critical when you want to use Dublin."

"When you want to have efficient procedures, you cannot be without this regulation," she said at the time.

With its 62 articles, the regulation is one of the most complex reform proposals in the package of seven EU asylum files.

The asylum procedure bill wants to harmonise laws on obtaining and withdrawing international protection, guardianship of minors, and asylum appeals, as well as the elusive 'safe country' concepts.

"It is basically from the point of where a person steps off the boat and says I want asylum to the point of where he or she gets it. Everything is regulated there. It is a monstrous file, which just takes time," said one EU diplomat.

The European Parliament reached its own position in April, some two years after the reforms were first proposed by the commission.

Dublin reform has gripped the political centre stage of the broader asylum debate as it exposes the divergent positions of governments and public mood on migration.

Such divides have rattled the European Union with policy makers tip-toeing around issues of solidarity and responsibility, given, in part, the resurgence of populist leadership in Hungary, Italy, and further afield.

The reforms were built on the, perhaps, naive premise that EU states will respect international obligations like the Geneva Conventions as prescribed in the EU treaties when it comes to asylum.

That prospect appears increasingly shaky after Italy placed Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right and anti-immigrant League party, as its interior minister.

Stephan Mayer, a state secretary in Germany's interior ministry, told reporters on Tuesday in Luxembourg that it was not only Italy that was against the current proposals on European asylum.

He said Germany was open to discussions but rejected the compromise proposals put forward by the Bulgarian EU presidency.

"We are not willing to accept it," he said.

Dublin and asylum procedures

Political hangups aside, Dublin reform needs the asylum procedures regulation.

The commission's Dublin proposal had included, among other things, a pre-Dublin check.

It meant EU states would not have to apply Dublin if the person demanding asylum came from a safe country. There are three variations of the concept, including "first country of asylum", "safe third country", and "safe country of origin".

A first country of asylum means a person's application can be rejected if they have already been granted protection elsewhere. It is also referred to as a safe third country.

Those concepts are now annexed as part of the asylum procedures regulation.

The European Commission wants to include six Western Balkan countries, plus Turkey on a common EU list of safe countries of origin.

But the Bulgarian EU presidency, in its proposal on Dublin, proposed to keep pre-Dublin checks optional given the administrative burden that it entailed if there was a sudden increase in the number of refugee arrivals.

EU states are also no closer to reaching an agreement on the core of Dublin, which determines that the member state where a migrant first arrived is responsible for processing their asylum claim and which is supposed to halt 'asylum shopping' by sending applicants back to the first country of entry if they had moved on.

The remote chance that EU capitals manage to clinch a political accord on Dublin at a summit at the end of the month would still put them on a collision course with the European Parliament, which backs mandatory relocation quotas in the teeth of Hungarian and Polish resistance.

"If we are to extend [the talks] by some weeks, it is not the end of the world," said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU migration commissioner, on Tuesday in Luxembourg.

The European Parliament's patience on the file is already running thin, however.

Earlier this year, Swedish liberal MEP Cecilia Wikstroem, who steered Dublin through the European Parliament, said she had managed to secure a two-third majority support from her peers across the five main political groups, representing more than 220 political parties from across the European Union.

"How is it possible for 28 ministers not to reach one position?" she said.

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