Sunday

20th Jan 2019

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

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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.

NGO Mediterranean rescue standoff exposes EU rift

Conditions on the Dutch flagged Sea-Watch 3, an NGO boat with 32 rescued migrants onboard, continue to deteriorate - as EU states refuse to take them in. The youngest on board is a one-year old infant.

News in Brief

  1. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  2. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  3. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden
  4. Putin opposes EU prospects of Serbia and Kosovo
  5. Tsipras launches campaign to ratify Macedonia deal
  6. US-EU meeting in doubt after Trump cancels plane
  7. Germany and China to sign pact on finance cooperation
  8. Labour divided on second Brexit vote plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK
  2. Germany led way on EU rights protection
  3. How to troll the European Parliament elections
  4. MEPs in Strasbourg: everywhere but the plenary
  5. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  6. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  7. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  8. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us