Tuesday

22nd Jan 2019

EU summit hits asylum fatigue as deadlock continues

The topic of migration at the EU summit in Brussels has been shuffled to the sidelines, alongside a package of other issues to be discussed on Friday (14 December) morning.

The move follows a recent backlash among a half dozen EU states against a UN global migration pact that imposes no obligations. The dispute has, among other things, left the Belgian government without a majority.

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It also follows a stalemated meeting last week among EU interior ministers and points to a growing realisation that EU-wide solutions on migration will not be found before the European elections in May.

Two years of talks and the conclusion drawn last week at the ministerial meeting was summed up by a dejected European commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos.

"I have been here for the last four years, we did not agree on anything, not today throughout this period, but at the end we managed to make a step forward altogether," said an unconvincing Avramopoulos following the meeting.

The gathering was intended to feed into the EU summit talks in the hopes of at least resolving some of the less tricky of the seven files that make up the so-called Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

Austrian presidency peters out

The Austrian presidency said it had reached some agreements on expanding the Frontex mandate to step up returns of unwanted migrants and allow it to operate in countries outside Europe.

But any notion of creating a standing corps of 10,000 border guards by 2020 was tossed out.

Friday's talks on migration could still spill over given their contentious nature, although one EU official said the plan was "not to have a discussion at this time" but instead rubber-stamp draft conclusions.

Draft conclusions

The conclusions, seen by EUobserver, references the drop in arrivals and border crossings.

They also seek to get an agreement on expanding Frontex, and demand "further efforts to conclude negotiations" on the return directive and the EU asylum agency, Easo.

Other big ideas on creating centres rimming the Mediterranean to offload rescued migrants have been dropped, as EU and Arab leaders prepare a summit in Egypt early next year.

The Commission is instead pressing to get the co-legislators to sign off on five of the CEAS files, which it says are near completion, leaving the 'Dublin', and the asylum procedures, regulation to be sorted later on.

Not everyone is convinced, preferring instead to keep all seven files in one big package.

"It is still a controversial issue among the member countries," said a senior EU official, in reference to the opposition from a handful of southern and eastern EU states.

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani told EUobserver that the "package cannot be sub-divided".

Leading MEPs on asylum are also against the split.

Among them is Swedish liberal Cecilia Wikstrom, who spear-headed Dublin reforms at the European Parliament, and had secured a two-third backing of the plenary.

In an email, Wikstrom said it was "important to regard the seven legislative files as a package".

She also pressed EU states to decide Dublin by a majority vote should a decision by unanimity fail to materialise.

"The solution for an EU approach based on solidarity and shared responsibility is on the table and the Council needs to act now," she said.

The Austrian EU presidency was given the task in July, using slogans of 'solidarity and responsibility' as an appeal across all the divides on Dublin.

Gridlock

Six months later and Herbert Kickl, Austria's interior minister, told reporters the impasse has yet to be breached.

"We need to get out of that impasse, that gridlock situation in terms of distribution of asylum seekers," he had said.

He quickly dismissed any notions of a majority vote on the matter, fearing it could degenerate into chaos among opposing EU states. "It is like walking on eggs," he said of the vote.

Even if EU states were to formulate a position on Dublin, their positions are so far removed from the parliament that any chance of securing a deal is far-fetched.

The parliament's Dublin position includes the automatic permanent relocation of asylum seekers.

The automated relocation of asylum seekers is what has prevented EU states from reaching any own position on Dublin for the past two years.

"We reject, by principle, any idea regarding relocation or distribution system," said Hungary's government spokesperson, Zoltan Kovacs.

The commission is left with few options, hoping that a stop-gap solution until an agreement is found on Dublin would entice EU states.

For reasons that confound some EU lawmakers, the commission had also decided to further amend in September three of files that had already been partially agreed among the co-legislators.

One of those files was on returns, a directive that aims to ship people not entitled to remain in the EU back to their home countries.

Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini, who is spearheading the file, rejected any idea that it too could be sorted before the European elections in May

"Absolutely not," she said when asked if the May deadline seemed feasible for the return reform.

"This was only sent from the commission to parliament in September without an impact assessment and it is completely wishy-washy," she added.

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.

Asylum reforms derailed, as EU looks to north Africa

EU leaders at the summit in Brussels want partnerships with north African states that go beyond migration. But internal EU reforms on asylum, especially sharing of migrants and refugees between member states, remain stuck.

Analysis

EU 'migration summit': big on promises, short on detail

Big on promises and short on detail, the EU summit's focus on migration failed to tackle the fractured nature of asylum, leaving the prospect of internal border controls unanswered as leaders appeared to issue victory statements.

EU in sudden turmoil over UN migration pact

A UN migration pact aimed at laying down basic principles for tackling migration on a global level gets caught up in Europe's heated political debate on nationalism and migration, ahead of the May 2019 European elections.

Eight EU states take migrants stranded on NGO boats

France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania have agreed to relocate the 49 migrants stuck on two NGO boats moored, for almost three weeks, off Malta's coast.

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