4th Mar 2024

Cool reception to compulsory EU sharing of asylum 'burden'

  • Thousands of African migrants risk their life crossing the Mediterranean to the EU every year (Photo: European Commission)

Italy, which has been under fire for its treatment of migrants in particular since in May it forcibly returned hundreds of people intercepted in its territorial waters to Libya, has called for "obligatory burden sharing" among EU member states when it comes to taking in asylum seekers.

On Thursday (4 June), EU interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg discussed how to tackle the increasing number of migrants coming from the Mediterranean, especially to particular member states such as Italy and Malta.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League, said before the meeting that proposals made recently by the European Commission in that respect were "interesting, but ... not sufficient."

"We asked for obligatory burden sharing, the proposal foresees a voluntary system ... so those who don't want to needn't take in any refugees," Mr Maroni told journalists.

In an interview with the Financial Times on the same day, Lawrence Gonzi, the prime minister of Malta – the small island state of some 400,000 people in the Mediterranean Sea – also re-iterated calls for more help from the European Union.

But while Mediterranean countries also including Greece and Cyprus have repeatedly called for more action at EU level, northern member states have been rather reluctant.

Voluntary assistance

A consensus on putting in place an obligatory burden-sharing system seems unlikely for now, the Czech EU presidency indicated.

"Some ministers ... said they would welcome an obligatory system. On the other hand, other countries have problems with that," Czech interior minister Martin Pecina said at a press conference in Luxembourg.

"There will be probably some help offered on a voluntary basis," he said, adding that "large member states" had already indicated they could provide some assistance.

EU justice commissioner Jacques Barrot also underlined that "all efforts at solidarity will be on voluntary basis."

He added that his office would "draw up a pilot proposal that will help Malta" deal with the increasing number of migrants arriving on its soil.

That intra-community relocation programme would also be "on a voluntary basis," he stressed.

Meanwhile, some member states insisted that taking in larger numbers of migrants would not deal fundamentally with the issue of Africans coming to Europe.

"There is no quick fix to the problems at the southern sea border and the Mediterranean as a whole: we have to work with long-term goals, we have to see to it that we develop good co-operation with countries of transit and origin," said Swedish interior minister Tobias Billstrom, whose country will take over the EU's rotating presidency next month.

His German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said that the situation would not change so long as the main driver of migration, namely poverty in the migrants' countries, is not been addressed.

"We can't solve the problem of poverty by bringing them all into Europe," Mr Schaeuble was quoted as saying by German news agency DPA.

NGOs slam Italy

The bloc's ministers were also set to discuss measures aimed at creating a common system for asylum-seekers across the EU that were presented by the European Commission in December and approved by MEPs last month.

Ahead of the meeting, human right groups called on EU states to set high standards of protection for refugees and asylum seekers, and were especially critical of the actions recently taken by Italy.

"States have a legitimate right to control their borders. However, forcibly returning people to countries where they possibly face serious violations of their human rights and may be pushed further back into the hands of their persecutors contravenes international law," the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) – a network of 69 refugee-assisting organisations in 30 European countries, said on Wednesday.

Since fundamental rights are part of the EU's founding principles, member states violating them "risk a suspension of certain rights derived from membership of the EU," it warned.

Human rights NGO Amnesty International and the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) issued similar statements.

The Italian government's decision in May to return migrants to Libya "without any assessment of their protection needs ... is in clear violation of international human rights standards and the EU and its member states must urgently call on Italy to put an immediate end to such policies," ENAR said.

"The EU has the potential and the capacity to develop a Common European Asylum System that could serve as a model to other regions in the world. It is time for the EU to live up to expectations and to ensure that the right to asylum is respected in practice," said Nicolas Beger, director of Amnesty International's EU Office.

The discussions on the new European legislation in the field of asylum and refugee protection will not lead to any immediate result, however.

Nothing is expected to be given a final approval for many months to come, making it unlikely for the EU to update its asylum policy before 2012.

EU seeks better rights for asylum seekers

EU countries should take better care of people who come to seek asylum, the European Commission said on Wednesday, unveiling a series of proposals aiming to make the current EU asylum rules better.

MEPs back asylum rules overhaul

The European Parliament approved a series of proposals on Thursday revising current EU asylum rules and introduced a 'solidarity clause' in order to assist member states that claim to be overburdened by asylum seeker demands.

EU Commission clears Poland's access to up to €137bn EU funds

The European Commission has legally paved the way for Poland to access up to €137bn EU funds, following Donald Tusk's government's efforts to strengthen the independence of their judiciary and restore the rule of law in the country.

Latest News

  1. EU socialists fight battle on two fronts in election campaign
  2. EU docks €32m in funding to UN Gaza agency pending audit
  3. 'Outdated' rules bar MEP from entering plenary with child
  4. Commission plays down row over Rwanda minerals pact
  5. EU socialists set to anoint placeholder candidate
  6. Why are the banking lobby afraid of a digital euro?
  7. Deepfake dystopia — Russia's disinformation in Spain and Italy
  8. Putin's nuclear riposte to Macron fails to impress EU diplomats

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us