9th Jun 2023

Dutch raise discrepancy in Sweden's draft EU asylum bill

  • The EU and its leadership insist that negotiations on an overhaul of asylum rules are going smoothly (Photo: Fotomovimiento)
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A key draft asylum bill by EU states appears to be making contradictory proposals on the right to international protection.

The Netherlands, in an internal EU paper, have singled out the discrepancy, as part of a long list of member state comments on the latest compromise text by the current Swedish EU presidency.

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"We do not in any way wish to question the right to apply for international protection," says the Dutch delegation, in the paper, dated 13 April and seen by this website.

"But there is an inner contradiction in this provision," it says.

The comment refers to a Swedish EU presidency text that includes, in the same line, a desire to prevent irregular migration while what at the same time ensuring the right for international protection.

That contradiction is inherent in a wider EU push to offshore asylum onto countries of origin and transit — while at the same time making it more difficult for people to reach an EU member state in order to exercise their right to claim protection.

The end result suggests more people end up dying in their attempts. The International Organization for Migration, a UN body, recorded 522 deaths in the Central Mediterranean so far this year, the highest since 2017.

The bill under internal discussion by the EU member states, and guided by the Swedish EU presidency, is known as the asylum and migration management regulation.

If passed, the regulation will govern the EU asylum system, whose overhaul was proposed by European Commission back in September 2020.

The problematic text in the Swedish EU presidency compromise falls under article 3, which sets out the overall aim of the bill.

This includes a list of objectives.

The first mostly echoes the original by the European Commission by demanding "mutually-beneficial partnerships and close cooperation with relevant third countries."

Although it also refers to legal pathways, it is seen by asylum rights defenders as a means to force others to do Europe's dirty work.

By contrast, MEPs working on their version of the regulation, have removed references to "mutually-beneficial partnerships" and the "prevention of irregular migration" from article 3.

Meanwhile, the discrepancy in the bill, cited by the Netherlands, is among a whole set of issues that EU states have so far failed to iron out.

Definition of 'family'

Those issues deal with solidarity and responsibility, a political minefield that has so far eluded lawmakers.

Poland, for instance, maintains its opposition to the concept of mandatory solidarity (which entails receiving relocated asylum seekers from peripheral 'arrival' EU states, such as Italy and Greece.)

Other more granular changes in the European Commission's proposal include extending the definition of "family" to include siblings.

Among other things, it also seeks to define migratory pressure.

Most have triggered sharp reactions and differences among EU states, according to the EU internal document from last week.

But Hungary, for instance, has found an ally in Ireland in their resistance to extend the definition of family to include siblings.

"We do not support the inclusion of siblings in the definition of family members," said Dublin.

Hungary described it as a red line. Other naysayers include Austria, Latvia, the Netherlands, and Slovakia.

For their part, Italy, Poland, Romania and Spain agreed to have siblings included.

"Ultimately, the denial of family reunification of siblings might be a driver for unauthorised movements," argues Italy.

It is unclear if the Council, representing member states, will find a solution that will appease all 27 EU states.

But until they do, they will not be able to enter negotiations with the European Parliament ahead of a deadline to get the whole migration and asylum pact agreed before April next year.

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The EU wants to finalise the overhaul of the migration and asylum laws before the end of the current mandate in 2024. But big issues on solidarity remain unsolved, including in the European Parliament.

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MEPs leading files on the EU asylum reform want binding relocations of asylum seekers in times of crisis, a contentious issue for member states. But some capitals will be pleased that most MEPs also endorsed EU funding for border fences.

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