The EU countries are working on a far-reaching reform of the EU asylum system. After much argument, there is now a breakthrough in the negotiations. However, it is not yet possible to celebrate.
The asylum procedures in the EU are to be significantly tightened in view of the problems with illegal migration. At a meeting of interior ministers in Luxembourg on Thursday, a sufficiently large majority of member states voted in favor of comprehensive reform plans, as the Swedish Presidency announced on Thursday evening after hours of difficult negotiations. Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) said: “These were not easy decisions for everyone here at the table, but they were historic ones.”
The reform plans that have now been agreed provide for a much tougher treatment of migrants with no prospects of staying. In the future, people arriving from countries that are considered safe should come to strictly controlled reception facilities under conditions similar to detention after crossing the border. There, it would normally be checked within twelve weeks whether the applicant has a chance of asylum. If not, it should be sent back immediately.
In the negotiations, the federal government had emphatically advocated that families with children be exempted from the so-called border procedures. In order to make the breakthrough possible, however, she ultimately had to accept that this could be possible.
Faeser wants to advocate further exceptions
After the decision, Federal Interior Minister Faeser said, however, that the federal government, together with Portugal, Ireland and Luxembourg, will continue to advocate exceptions. It is also conceivable that the EU Parliament will push through changes. It has a say in the reform and will negotiate the project with representatives of the EU states in the coming months.
In addition to the tightened asylum procedures, the plans decided on Thursday also provide for more solidarity with the heavily burdened member states at the EU’s external borders. In the future, it should no longer be voluntary, but mandatory. Countries that do not want to take in refugees would be forced to pay compensation. Countries like Hungary therefore voted against the plan.
Countries like Italy, for example, could benefit from the obligation to show solidarity. According to the UN refugee agency, more than 50,000 migrants who crossed the Mediterranean have been registered in Italy this year. Most of them came from Tunisia, Egypt and Bangladesh and therefore had almost no prospects of being able to stay legally.
The outstanding negotiations with the EU Parliament should ideally be concluded before the end of the year. Then the laws could be passed before the European elections in June 2024. If this does not succeed, the changed political balance of power could make renegotiations necessary.
Some countries were overwhelmed
The reform has been the subject of intensive work since the refugee crisis of 2015/2016. At that time, countries like Greece were overwhelmed with a mass influx of people from countries like Syria and hundreds of thousands were able to move on to other EU countries without being registered. This actually shouldn’t have happened, because according to the so-called Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers should be registered where they first entered the European Union. This country is usually also responsible for the asylum application.
The reform was not supported at the meeting by the countries of Poland, Hungary, Malta, Slovakia and Bulgaria. After the agreement, the Czech Republic made it clear that it did not want to participate in the solidarity mechanism. Poland and Hungary had already made similar statements in the past.
However, Faeser did not let this spoil his mood in the evening. “I think that’s really very good to see,” she said shortly after there was applause in the boardroom for the successful vote. Now you have to work on the implementation and the concrete designs.
Green threatens internal dispute
Before that, the government politicians of the Greens in particular could face trouble. Criticism had come from the ranks of the German Greens shortly before the vote. Member of the Bundestag Julian Pahlke said: “The reform does not create a fair division of responsibility, which is a central problem for countries like Italy.” The regulations for the distribution of refugees would also be ineffective “if states can simply buy their way out and finance border protection instead”. This would make “overcrowded mass storage” the new standard – Faeser should not agree to that. With a view to Faeser’s top candidacy in Hesse, Pahlke said that the Federal Minister of the Interior must have the well-being of refugees in mind and not the tactics for her state election campaign.
Green Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, on the other hand, defended the approval of the party leadership. “The compromise is by no means easy. To be honest, if we as the federal government could have decided on the reform on our own, then it would look different,” she wrote in a statement on Thursday. “But honesty also means that anyone who thinks this compromise is unacceptable will accept that no one will be distributed in the future.”
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.