1st Oct 2023

EU Commission's search-and-rescue proposal hits opposition

  • A handful of EU states want to remove search-and-rescue from the EU Commission's 'solidarity' proposals (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)
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Resistance is emerging among some EU states to proposals on distributing people saved in search-and-rescue operations.

A leaked internal EU document, dated 2 December, reveals opposition from Austria, Estonia, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, and Slovakia.

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Some of the views are likely to clash with more left-leaning and liberal MEPs, who earlier this year insisted on search-and-rescues remaining a part of the proposals.

The idea was initially proposed by the European Commission in September last year, as part of its pact on migration and asylum.

The commission had asked EU states to use the so-called 'solidarity mechanism' to take in disembarked asylum seekers following search-and-rescue operations.

But Austria argues it would create pull factor - a concept that has been debunked in the past by studies.

"Austria maintains a very critical position towards a special and permanent solidarity mechanism after SAR [search-and-rescue] disembarkations," notes the document.

Estonia, meanwhile, says there is no need for a separate solidarity mechanism in search-and-rescues.

Ireland holds a similar position, noting the distribution of asylum seekers should instead be "linked to an assessment of migratory pressure".

Malta believes the proposal does not go far enough and wants to extend the possibility of relocation for all asylum seekers.

"In our view arrivals following SAR should be the shared responsibility of the Union and not of individual member states," it says.

Meanwhile, Poland opposes the concept too, because it does not want to take in asylum seekers from search-and-rescues.

And the Netherlands is also unhappy.

"The Netherlands is in favour of one single solidarity mechanism and not multiple mechanisms for different situations," notes the document.

That is a position also held by the European Parliament's lead MEP on the file, Swedish centre-right Tomas Tobé.

Although not listed in the document, other EU states such as Hungary are also likely opposed.

The splits and divisions could spell trouble for both co-legislators working on the bill, known as the asylum and migration management regulation.

Tobé's draft proposal was eviscerated in October by fellow lawmakers for carving out search-and-rescues, which are spelled out in articles 47 to 49 of the draft bill.

"For me, I think it was important to make sure that we have one strong mechanism," he had said.

Both EU institutions need to formulate their own unified negotiating mandate before starting any negotiations in a pact that the European Commission still hopes will be adopted.

The SAR issue is linked to vague concepts of solidarity and responsibility, which has in the past crippled efforts to revamp EU migration and asylum rules.

The latest EU asylum overhaul aimed at bridging the political divides that undermined the previous reforms.

"Solidarity and responsibility are the two pillars that guide this package," said European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas last year.

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