Thursday

26th Nov 2020

Asylum reforms derailed, as EU looks to north Africa

Disagreements over the EU's internal asylum reforms remained entrenched after the EU summit on Thursday (18 October) - with notions of solidarity broadly dismissed as leaders press ahead to offshore migration with the supposed help of north African states.

The Brussels summit, where heads of state and government meet to thrash out solutions, failed to reach any agreement on long outstanding issues over the key EU asylum reforms that seek to better manage administrative bottlenecks and their adjoining political headaches.

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European Parliament president Antonio Tajani on Thursday described the lack of action as a "gift to populists and europhobes", demanding a change to the consensus approach among EU states on decisions related to the subject.

"We must not be hostages to consensus at all costs: we must vote by majority," he complained.

The European parliament has longed reached their position on the most contentious aspect of the asylum reforms - known as the 'Dublin' regulation - which determines who is responsible for processing applications for international protection.

EU states remain bitterly divided over Dublin and its system to distribute people in need of international protection.

Meanwhile, efforts to tease out an agreement on an handful of other less contentious asylum bills also failed to reach a consensus.

Other big ideas fell flat, including a decision over the summer to set up centres to distribute migrants rescued at sea or having countries rimming the Mediterranean take them in.

"To be honest, we did not achieve much progress since end of June," confirmed Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte.

EU council president Donald Tusk gave migration short shrift, announcing only their determination to further stem irregular flows.

First Egypt, now Morocco

However, Tusk did point to Morocco, making calls for greater cooperation following demands by Spain's prime minister Pedro Sanchez.

Five out of the seven European Commission proposed reforms on asylum are more or less finalised. Dublin, and the asylum procedures regulation, are stuck.

EU leaders want all seven passed as a single package, likely delaying EU-wide reforms.

Last week, EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopolous had pressed EU interior ministers "to make the decisive steps to reach a final agreement" on the five files.

The Austrian EU presidency's bid for a consensus on a principle it defines as "mandatory solidarity", a notion that seeks to spread the responsibility of asylum management across EU states, also failed to muster broad support.

That notion is linked to the Dublin regulation reform. The Austrian idea seeks other ways of contributing to asylum, by for instance, member states offering money in return for not taking in refugees.

Various other iterations of solidarity, presented over the past several EU presidencies, in their effort to break the internal member state deadlock over Dublin, have all also failed.

The blame is largely due to politics, toxic public announcements, and online disinformation in Italy and Hungary, among other EU states, over an exaggerated threat that migrants and asylum seekers pose to the wider public.

One study by the University of Warwick over the summer had found a direct link between violent attacks against migrants in Germany and Facebook postings that portray them as a threat.

The EU leaders have instead opted to quicken up the pace of returning failed asylum seekers to their home countries.

They also agreed "to examine, as a matter of priority," recent Commission proposals on returns, the EU asylum agency, and the EU's border agency, Frontex.

The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have all denounced an expanded Frontex, fearing a blow to sovereignty and less EU money for other areas like structural funds.

But Sebastian Kurz, Austria's chancellor, told reporters early Thursday that the EU is "on the right path" when it comes to migration.

He said a new approach that eschews the distribution of asylum seekers based on a system of quotas, as proposed in the Dublin reform, has since given way to deepening cooperation with pariah states like Egypt.

Both Kurz and European Council president Donald Tusk had met Egypt's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as part of a broader plan to keep migrants from leaving the north African shore, ahead of an EU-Egypt summit next February.

But Luxembourg's prime minister Xavier Bettel appeared to play down the Egypt talks, telling reporters that negotiations with Cairo "are less rapid than perhaps expected."

EU promotes 'Egypt model' to reduce migrant numbers

EU council president Donald Tusk wants to discuss deepening relations with authoritarian Egypt, as a model of migrant reduction, with EU heads of state and government at a meeting in Salzburg, Austria on Wednesday.

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.

Analysis

Aquarius, Dublin: Is EU losing grip on asylum reform?

The standoff over the rescue boat, which is now heading to Spain, is part of a wider politically toxic narrative against refugees and migrants and a symptom of EU failures to reform asylum laws.

EU Commission floats 'Plan B' on blocked asylum reform

The European Commission wants EU states to voluntarily accept rescued asylum seekers - in a plan that would then phase out when the stalled reforms on the 'Dublin' regulation, which imposes relocation, are sorted.

EU summit hits asylum fatigue as deadlock continues

Leaders at the EU summit are unlikely to discuss migration, preferring instead to rubber-stamp pre-cooked conclusions. Recent proposals by the European Commission to get some of the reforms finalised are also unlikely to get broad support. The two-year deadlock continues.

Infographic

Asylum seekers appealing returns must get own travel documents

The European Commission wants to increase the return rates of rejected asylum seekers, following pressure from EU states. But the reforms proposed seek to increase detention, and put people who are appealing their decisions at risk.

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