Sunday

14th Apr 2024

EU leaders stuck on asylum reform

  • EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (l), EU Council chief Donald Tusk (m) and Austrian chancellor Sebastien Kurz coordinate at the start of Friday's EU meeting (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU leaders pushed back European asylum reform to their ministers on Friday (14 December), without deciding on key obstacles to any progress.

It means it is unlikely that a common asylum policy reform can be agreed before the EU elections next May.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The migration debate at the EU summit, overshadowed by Brexit, brought home again the deep divisions between hardline anti-immigration member states and those, along with the European Commission, who had wanted to speed up agreements on the issue before Europeans go to the ballot.

The commission was hoping that EU leaders could be persuaded to push through five of the seven legislative files that make up the common asylum policy, which countries had largely agreed on earlier.

But some member states - such as Greece, Hungary, Sweden, Italy - opposed the so-called "decoupling" of those files, which does not enjoy broad support among member states, nor it has the backing of the European Parliament.

The remaining part of the asylum reform is mostly held up by disagreement over the distribution of asylum seekers among member states.

Most central and eastern European countries do not want to take migrants, while other countries, such as Sweden or Italy insist on fair burden sharing.

"We expect an expression of solidarity - the extent of this has not been finalised. I can't give a forecast on progress," German chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after the meeting.

The commission had hoped that some results on migration and asylum could give a boost to pro-European forces in the EU campaign, as asylum reforms could be seen as something the EU has delivered on after the 2015 migration crisis.

Some countries, such as Hungary, however, are not interested in pro-EU forces gaining strength ahead of the vote next May.

Other member states fear that if the files are separated, distribution of migrations will never be discussed again, and the remaining files will get stuck indefinitely.

"We're back to where we started," said one source after the meeting of EU leaders, who agreed to pass the ball back to ministers to decide on what should be done with the asylum reform.

"There were no surprises on positions of EU countries during the debate," said another source on the sidelines of the talks.

Several EU leaders warned that a lack of progress on the EU's asylum reform could risk free movement in the bloc, as many member states have already reinstalled border checks.

Belgium's Charles Michel, France's Emmanuel Macron, and commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, all warned that the passport-free Schengen zone is at stake.

"They made it known that the political risk is clear, if we don't agree on these things, Schengen is at risk," a source said on the discussions.

For central and eastern European member states, some of which are stalling progress, keeping the borders open was essential.

EU leaders also discussed reinforcing the EU's external border guard, but the creation of an additional 10,000 guards by 2020 has not been backed by EU leaders.

Juncker told reporters after the meeting that some of the leaders were hypocrites.

"The elephant in the room is hypocrisy: all leaders say they want better external border protection. The commission has put proposals on the table. So I am surprised by the resistance of some member states," Juncker said.

Hungary, Italy, and other member states opposed boosting the number of EU guards, arguing it could infringe upon their sovereignty.

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.

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.

Germany's CDU lukewarm on Macron's EU vision

Germany's anointed new leader has echoed France in calling for EU reform to combat populism - but with a stronger role for national governments and with little prospect of sharing German wealth.

EU 'ready' to support Cyprus on Lebanon migration

The EU is ready to offer extra support to Cyprus as the Mediterranean island faces a sharp increase in refugees arriving from Lebanon, a spokesperson for the EU executive told reporters on Thursday (4 April).

Latest News

  1. UK-EU deal on Gibraltar only 'weeks away'
  2. Belgium declares war on MEPs who took Russian 'cash'
  3. Brussels Dispatches: Foreign interference in the spotlight
  4. Calling time on Amazon's monopolism and exploitation
  5. Resist backlash on deforestation law, green groups tell EU
  6. China's high-quality development brings opportunities to the world
  7. Ukraine tops aid list again, but EU spending slumps
  8. Who did Russia pay? MEPs urge spies to give names

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us