13th Apr 2024

EU states to agree on asylum crisis bill, say EU officials

  • Critics says the new laws will lead to more detention (Photo: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent)
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Senior EU officials insist a majority of EU states support tougher asylum reforms after Germany decided to drop its veto despite a last minute reported backlash from Italy.

The back and forth followed a meeting of interior ministers in Brussels on Thursday (28 September) amid speculation Berlin's objections to a crisis regulation would derail a deadline to enter negotiations with the European Parliament to overhaul the EU's asylum rules.

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"There are no main obstacle left. We will reach an agreement, there was a broad majority for the proposal, and that will be happening in a few days," Ylva Johansson, the EU home affairs commissioner, told reporters.

Neither Johansson nor Spain's interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gomez would offer any details into the remaining stumbling blocks, when pressed.

The optimism comes in light of reported objections from Rome's far-right government, following Spanish EU presidency concessions on the crisis bill in order to get support from Berlin.

One concession removes an article from the bill allowing EU states to derogate on reception conditions of arriving migrants, reports Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Another relieves any undue pressure on NGOs from carrying out sea rescues, says the newspaper. The Spanish EU presidency says a formal agreement among EU states on the crisis bill is now expected in the coming days.

This paves the way for inter-institutional talks with the European Parliament in the hopes of reaching an agreement before June next year.

The German contention centred around a crisis regulation, a so-called measure of last resort, but which critics say will lead to an increase in detention and heighten risks of illegal pushbacks.

"When a crisis occurs there needs to be more solidarity, not a lowering of standards," said International Rescue Committee, in a statement.

The bill is part of a wider menu of legislative files that make up the EU's pact on asylum and migration, which seeks to overhaul the current dysfunctional system.

Germany's far-right surge

Diplomats had earlier warned that the wiggle room to reach a qualified majority vote, needed to enter negotiations with the European Parliament, was tight amid fears southern EU states like Greece, Malta and Italy would object.

"The margins of manoeuvre are quite limited because if you move too much towards one side you lose the others," an EU diplomat told reporters on Wednesday.

The German breakthrough came after chancellor Olaf Scholz, also on Wednesday, piled on the pressure for the German Greens to drop their objections.

Those objections were reportedly spearheaded by Annalena Baerbock, Germany's foreign minister from the Green party.

Baerbock feared the bill would curtail rights and further usher in large numbers of unregistered refugees into German towns and cities.

Germany which had sought exemptions for children in the rules, will now vote in favour of the bill, said German interior minister Nancy Faeser.

But Scholz's intervention also came in the context of the popularity gains among the German far-right AfD, a virulent anti-immigrant party.

Nation-wide, the party is polling at nearly 22 per cent, ahead of Scholz's coalition composed of the liberal Free Democrats, Greens and Social Democrats.

Fears are mounting that the party could win next year elections in the eastern states of Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia.

Parliament's position

For its part, the European Parliament had reached its position on the crisis rules in April.

The lead MEP on the file, Spanish socialist Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, said the regulation lays down the legal framework whenever there is "a massive and unexpected" arrival of people.

The regulation would be triggered following a demand to the European Commission by the affected member state.

Once that demand is made, then the commission dips into a "solidarity pool" to help the EU state under pressure, he said in comments made earlier this year.

This would entail mandatory relocation programmes to distribute asylum seekers across member states, he said.

The parliament's position also seeks to extend registration of those applying for asylum by four weeks and increase border procedures by 16 weeks.

But critics say the crisis rules are giving EU states too many derogations, weakening rights of asylum seekers.

The asylum reform package presented in September 20202 builds on previous failed legislative files.

It also introduced five regulations spanning screening, fingerprinting, asylum management, asylum procedures, and what to do in times of crisis.

Meanwhile, the parliament is still looking for its own position on returns, a proposal that seeks to send rejected asylum seekers back home.

"We have no mandate on returns and returns is very important, of course, for the council," said French liberal MEP, Fabienne Keller.

EU states last year issued some 340,000 return decisions. Around 21 percent of people not eligible to stay or not in need of international protection were returned last year.

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