Council reaches agreement on controversial reform of asylum rules
Following years of protracted negotiations, the governments of the EU states represented in the Council of the European Union on Thursday voted by a majority in favour of an agreement on the reform of the EU asylum and migration management system.
It follows the presentation of a proposal by the European Commission in 2020. Before becoming law, the agreement still needs the approval of the European Parliament, which is not a given. 21 of the 27 member states, including Italy, France and Germany, approved the compromise proposal put forward by the current holder of the Council presidency, Sweden. It was rejected by Poland and Hungary, amongst others.
Main elements of the agreement
1. The proposed new Asylum Procedures Regulation (APR) is to establish a common procedure across the EU that member states need to follow when people seek international protection. The regulation contains a border procedure rule which allows to quickly assess at the EU’s external borders whether applications are unfounded or inadmissible. Before being cleared, applicants cannot enter EU territory. This procedure would also apply in cases where an asylum seeker is apprehended in connection with an illegal border crossing or following disembarkation after a search and rescue operation. Applications should be dealt with in maximum six months.
The procedure is also mandatory for member states if the applicant is a danger to national security or public order, he/she has misled the authorities with false information or by withholding information and if the applicant has a nationality with a recognition rate below 20 percent. Another aim of the APR is to prevent abuse of the system by setting out clear obligations for applicants to cooperate with the authorities the application process.
2. Modification of Dublin Rules
The Asylum and Migration Management Regulation (AMMR) is to replace the current Dublin Regulation. The purpose of the AMMR is to determine which member state is responsible for the examination of an asylum application. It also establishes a new solidarity mechanism to ensure a more even distribution of migrants across the EU.
3. Adequate capacity
In order to carry out border procedures, member states are supposed to establish an adequate capacity, in terms of reception and human resources, required to examine at any given moment an identified number of applications and to enforce return decisions. At EU level, this adequate capacity is 30,000. The adequate capacity of each member state will be established on the basis of a formula which takes account of the number of irregular border crossings and refusals of entry over a three-year period.
4. New solidarity mechanism
To address the failings of the current system, whereby a few EU states are responsible for the vast majority of asylum applications, a new solidarity mechanism is proposed. The new rules would combine mandatory solidarity with flexibility for member states as regards the choice of their contribution. Such contributions may include relocation, financial payments or alternative solidarity measures such as the deployment of personnel or measures focusing on capacity building.
There will be a minimum annual number for relocations from member states where most persons enter the EU to member states less exposed to such arrivals. This number is set at 30 000, while the minimum annual number for financial contributions will be fixed at €20,000 per relocation. These figures can be increased where necessary and situations where no need for solidarity is foreseen in a given year will also be taken into account.
Preventing abuse and secondary movements
The AMMR also contains measures aimed at preventing abuse by the asylum seeker and avoiding secondary movements (when a migrant moves from the country in which they first arrived to seek protection or permanent resettlement elsewhere). The regulation for instance sets obligations for asylum seekers to apply in the member states of first entry or legal stay. It discourages secondary movements by limiting the possibilities for the cessation or shift of responsibility between member states and thus reduces the possibilities for the applicant to chose the member state where they submit their claim.
While the new regulation should preserve the main rules on determination of responsibility, the agreed measures include modified time limits for its duration:
- The member state of first entry will be responsible for the asylum application for a duration of two years
- When a country wants to transfer a person to the member state which is actually responsible for the migrant and this person absconds (e.g. when the migrant goes into hiding to evade a transfer), responsibility will shift to the transferring member state after three years
If a member state rejects an applicant in the border procedure, its responsibility for that person will end after 15 months (in case of a renewed application).
Maria Malmer Stenergard, Sweden’s minister for migration, called the compromise adopted now “a big leap forward to a fair and sustainable European migration and asylum policy.” However, many NGOs and politicians strongly disagreed.
The leaders of the Green Group in the European Parliament, Terry Reintke and Philippe Lamberts, declared: “This deal goes against EU values. The EU cannot disregard our international obligations to protect those seeking protection and the most vulnerable.” Other Green politicians, including ministers in the German government, backed the deal.
Luxembourg’s Foreign and Migration Minister Jean Asselborn also welcomed the agreement, saying a failure to agree now would have had more negative consequences. “Without this compromise, the chaos would have continued”, Asselborn said.
Gerald Knaus, one of the architects of the EU-Turkey agreement to repatriate irregular migrants in exchange for financial aid, said there could be problems with the implementation of the new system and that it might not not reduce irregular migration, which is one of the goals of the EU. “The most likely scenario is: it will ultimately not be implemented, illegal pushbacks and violence will instead continue as before, including irregular migration and deaths in the Mediterranean”, Knaus told “Der Spiegel”.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki lambasted the agreement for allegedly “violating Poland’s sovereignty”, referring to the obligation to take in asylum seekers from other EU countries.
It remains to be seen if there is a majority in the European Parliament to support the proposed agreement.