Friday

18th Oct 2019

Johansson: 'No new proposals in first 100 days'

European commissioner for home affairs hopeful Ylva Johansson has struggled to put forward any fresh ideas on how to unblock the EU's asylum reforms, telling MEPs she won't make any new proposals in her first 100 days in office.

Speaking to MEPs in the civil liberties committee on Tuesday (1 October) in a two-and-half-hour job grilling, Johansson said she would instead be banking on her past experience as a minister in Sweden to find a solution to years of EU member state deadlock.

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"I have been entrusted with this portfolio to find a new pact on migration and asylum because I am quite experienced. I have been tackling and cracking tough nuts before in my political career," she said, noting that she has worked in a handful of minority governments in Sweden.

She said the incoming European Commission had also presented a fresh momentum but when pressed for details on how to achieve those ends, Johansson told MEPs "I can't exactly say how this will be done," noting instead she first needs to listen to member states.

The former Swedish minister said her top priority will be to create a new pact on migration and asylum, a tasked delegated upon her by commission-president elect Ursula von der Leyen.

Johansson also praised Sweden for having accepted in 2015 more refugees per capita than any other EU state, including some one-third of all unaccompanied minors.

But it has since clamped down, imposed controversial border checks with Denmark, and boosted deportations of rejected asylum seekers.

Some 2,600 were deported from Sweden by plane between January and August 2019, including 50 to Afghanistan in a single day amid widespread reports of self-harm and attempted suicides.

Vague

The EU has so far been unable to agree on the European commission's revamp of internal asylum rules, in large part because a handful of member states led by Hungary refuse to accept any system that is not voluntary.

Multiple successive EU presidencies over the years have tried to broker a compromise with concepts like solidarity and responsibility in an effort to share out arriving asylum seekers. All have failed.

Johansson drew the line on solidarity, pitting the commissioner-designate against Hungary and other like-minded EU states such as Poland.

"Let me be clear on one thing, the solidarity mechanism is not voluntary," she said.

Some MEPs appeared unconvinced by Johansson's vague responses.

"The council has blocked everything and they may do it again so your new pact may not be a new pact," warned Claude Moraes, a British labour MEP.

Roberta Metsola, a centre-right Maltese MEP drew similar conclusions, noting that Johansson had not given them any answers on a whole host of issues from protecting external borders to tackling the threat of terrorism.

Spanish centre-left Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, who chairs the committee, also gave a mixed review.

"My praise is positive in principal but I highlight it is up to coordinators to make up their minds as to the final assessment," he said, after the hearing.

More talk

Johansson also drew a direct link between the stalled EU asylum package and member states erecting internal border controls in what is supposed to be a border-free Schengen area.

Only earlier this week, Germany had announced it would intensify border checks to prevent migrants from entering the country.

"Alongside the new border control arrangements on the border with Austria, I have instructed officers to step up random police checks on all other German borders," said Horst Seehofer, minister of the interior and member of the centre-right Christian Social Union (CSU) party.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany and Sweden have all been imposing so-called temporary border controls for the past few years, despite European Commission promises to have them abolished.

Asked if she would sanction the states for border violations, Johansson said she also preferred dialogue.

"I think that I should start with a dialogue with the countries in trying to find way forwards in other aspects before starting an infringement procedure," she said.

Opinion

EU split on migration widens

Failure to reform the EU's asylum system and to manage the crisis will likely push increasingly numbers of voters towards far-right and populist parties.

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.

Schinas spars with MEPs over migration job title

A number of MEPs pressed Margaritis Schinas to drop the "Protecting the European Way of Life" title of his portfolio, which deals with migration. But Schinas refused, claiming it needs protecting from terrorists and populists. He failed to convince.

Poland's 'vague' nominee flops in EU hearing

Poland's nominee for agriculture commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, is likely to face a second hearing after MEPs from top political groups lambasted his "vague" performance on Tuesday.

Hungary faces EU court for starving migrants

The European Commission is one step away from taking Hungary to court if it does not offer a credible explanation for why it denied detained migrants food in its transit zones along the Serbian border.

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