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9th Dec 2018

Austria EU presidency seeks 'mandatory solidarity' on Dublin

  • The Austrian EU presidency will brief EU interior ministers on Dublin (Photo: PES)

The Austrian EU presidency will be pressing ahead with plans to make sure member states play their part in taking in asylum seekers.

Also known as "mandatory solidarity", the concept (and its variations) has so far eluded the past four EU presidencies in their efforts to gain some traction on reforming the so-called 'Dublin regulation' - a key EU-wide asylum law that determines who is required to process an asylum-seeker application.

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The European Commission's reform proposal includes plans to automatically distribute people in need of international protection across EU states - an anathema for Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia.

An EU diplomat on Tuesday (9 October) told reporters in Brussels that the Austrian EU presidency is now aiming to get the EU states to agree on the principle of mandatory solidarity in the hopes of pushing ahead with Dublin reforms.

"A new Dublin regulation should have a new concept of solidarity. The only question not being able to be solved on that until now is how should this solidarity be designed," said the EU diplomat source.

The presidency over the summer held bilateral meetings with 27 other members states on Dublin and will now brief the outcome of those talks with member state interior ministers at a meeting in Luxembourg on Friday.

No detailed definition

The Austrian presidency has not proposed any detailed scenarios of what "mandatory solidarity" means in practice, noting that it had been mandated in June to find a consensus on the concept.

But finding that consensus has so far been elusive.

Similar quotas sparked a political crisis when the EU in 2015 imposed a temporary migrant relocation scheme, which ended last September, in an effort to ease the asylum arrival pressure in Italy and Greece.

Hungary is instead pressing for an Australian model where people are offshored in prison-like conditions.

In August, Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban and Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini also announced an anti-migration front to stop people from reaching Europe.

The infighting among EU states stands in sharp contrast to the European Parliament, which secured its own position on Dublin last year.

"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," Cecilia Wikstrom, the Swedish liberal MEP who steered the file through the parliament, told an audience at an event organised by the European policy centre, earlier this year.

Dublin in numbers

In the first six months of this year, Germany carried out some 4,900 transfers, followed by Greece (2,743), Austria (1,403) and the Netherlands (1,080), according to a study by Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).

But those transfers are dwarfed by requests owing to the heavy administration that underpins the Dublin regulation. Germany, for instance, had issued over 30,000 requests but managed to only carry out only 4,900 transfers.

Minos Mouzourakis, senior asylum information database (AIDA) coordinator at the ECRE, in a statement, also pointed out that member states are not required to transfer asylum seekers to other countries.

"Dublin grants them discretion to take responsibility and process the asylum claim at any point," he said.

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A Friends of the Presidency group, set up by the Bulgarian EU presidency, has sifted through the European Commission's proposal to reform Dublin, an EU asylum law that has sparked widespread political tensions and divisions.

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