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22nd Jun 2018

Refusing refugees would cost EU funds, MEP says

  • MEP Wikstroem says the €250,000 fine for refused refugees is 'unethical' (Photo: European Parliament)

EU countries that refuse to take in asylum seekers should have their structural funds suspended, suggests the European Parliament’s rapporteur for reforming the EU’s so-called Dublin asylum system.

Instead of the European Commission’s original proposal of fining countries €250,000 for each asylum seeker that is refused, MEP Cecilia Wikstroem suggests suspending payments from the European Structural and Investment Funds to the country in question.

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“I found it unethical to put a price tag on an individual,” Wikstroem told journalists on Monday (6 March).

“Countries shouldn’t receive as much [money] if they don’t comply with EU law,” she added.

According to the EU Commission's plans rolled out last May, the new asylum system would automatically introduce a relocation scheme if a particular country is overwhelmed by an influx of people.

If a country receives over 150 percent of its allocated asylum applications (a reference number calculated by the size and the wealth of the country), an automatic, mandatory relocation of people to other EU countries would begin.

If any country refuses to participate, it would have to pay a fine, a "solidarity contribution" of €250,000 per asylum applicant it would have taken according to the reference quota, the Commission proposed.

However it is unclear yet how the Wiktroem's suspension mechanism would work, but she said she has worked on the idea with the legal services, and that it is possible to implement.

“The majority of the member states are in favour of it,” the Swedish liberal MEP claimed.

Transition period

The rapporteur, who will present her report to the European Parliament's civil liberties committee on Thursday, will also introduce a five-year transition period for countries that need time “to adapt and prepare” to receive asylum seekers.

The country should gradually take in asylum seekers, starting with 20 percent of the quota key suggested by the European Commission.

Wikstroem is positive these measures will convince those countries that are currently reluctant to take asylum seekers.

She even said Slovakia's interior minister, Robert Kalinak, one of the countries that refused to take in asylum seekers, said that it is an idea that “could be sold”.

The MEP said that the notion of “flexible solidarity”, introduced by Slovakia when it held the EU presidency last year “is not good enough”. This scheme allowed those countries that do not want to take asylum seekers to contribute to the common external border control, and asylum policy with personnel or equipment.

Wikstroem also seeks to tweak the Commission’s proposal on what would trigger the relocation of asylum seekers from a front-line country.

If an EU country experiences an uncommonly high influx of people, their relocation to other countries should be triggered automatically when that country has reached 100 percent of its allocated share, and not 150 percent as the EU executive suggested.

However, if an EU country fails to guard its borders and lets unregistered asylum seekers travel onto other EU countries, it should be possible for the EU Council to suspend transfers from this member state, Wikstroem argues.

She also suggests that the Commission’s proposal puts an unfair administrative burden on the front-line member states. The proposal sets out that front-line countries are to establish whether an asylum application is acceptable before sending the applicant to the country that will eventually process the asylum application.

Wikstroem suggests that admissibility should be checked by the country responsible for processing the application.

No outsourcing

She dismissed the idea that application centres should be established outside the EU.

"We should never outsource our responsibility for people in need to third countries, to me this is crystal clear. We should not externalise our external borders to a country in a different continent," she said.

The rapporteur also suggests to speed up family reunifications if an asylum seeker claims to have family in an EU country.

While she maintains that asylum seekers would not be allowed to choose which member state to go to, they could express a preference. Member states would then still be able to decide on accepting that particular applicant.

Wikstroem would also make it possible for a maximum of 30 people to register as a group, for instance those who have traveled together. However, this would not imply that they could be relocated to a different member state together.

She would also reinforce the special focus on children, especially unaccompanied minors, for whom guardians should be appointed within five days.

Wikstroem is confident the member states will agree to most of her suggestions, but she has her own red lines in the upcoming negotiations with governments.

“I need to know we are changing things on the ground, if not, I’m not in,” she said.

Interview

Refusing refugees should cost EU funds, MEP says

Swedish liberal MEP Cecilia Wikstroem, the European Parliament's negotiator on asylum reform, says it is too complicated to fine member states for not taking refugees and will instead look for ways to withhold their EU funds instead.

EU asylum return focus expands police scrutiny

EU interior ministers agreed to start legislative talks with the EU parliament to expand the scope of an asylum database, Eurodac, to include migrants and stateless people.

Analysis

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Creditors are expected to agree Thursday on a final loan and debt relief measures for Greece. After eight years on an international lifeline, the country will remain under close surveillance - but will have to find a new economic model.

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