The parliament adopted last October a resolution on reforming the asylum system in EU by sharing of responsibility for asylum seekers between all EU member states on the basis of mandatory relocation quotas. Member states however disagree on quotas and the issue seems currently stuck in the Council.
The proposal on mandatory quotas was subject to extensive consultation with member states and NGOs by Swedish MEP Cecilia Wikström (ALDE), rapporteur in the parliamentary committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs. The resolution was adopted by a record two third majority of votes from the main political party groups.
“The European asylum system collapsed in 2015,” she explained at a policy debate (22 February) arranged by the European Policy Centre (EPC).
“The Dublin system wasn’t functioning. There was no relocation among member states – migrants relocated themselves. The situation has continued to be chaotic since then with no central registration of refugees arriving to EU. Relocations didn’t work since they were emergency decisions.”
Amended Commission proposal
She described her proposal as an improved and more balanced version of a draft regulation proposed by the Commission. “Solidarity isn’t only about distributing EU funding but also about sharing the burden in a fair way.”
According to her proposal, countries where refugees arrive first should be responsible for registering them as well as maintaining EU’s external borders.
Asylum seekers will not know in which country they’ll end up but may apply for a certain country if they have close family or other links with that country. In case no such link exists, asylum seekers would automatically be assigned to a member state according to a fixed distribution key based on GDP and population.
Relocation will be done to one of four countries that have received the smallest number of asylum seekers in relation to its responsibility. A limited choice between one of these countries can be made, if the asylum application is filed in the first country of entry.
“The only way to apply for asylum in EU is to be registered in the system after security checks,” Wikström said. “Secondary move to another country will only be possible after 5 years.”
According to Wikström up to 23 member states are in favor of mandatory relocation of refugees. Her opponent in the debate, Ales Chmelar, Czech State Secretary for European Affairs, didn’t agree.
Hungary and Slovakia have challenged a previous relocation decision taken by qualified majority by the Council and there are on-going infringement proceedings also against the Czech Republic.
“We never hesitated to participate in the debate,” he said. “Not only the ‘Visegrad four’ (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) but also other countries are against quotas.”
He explained that although the Czech Republic has received refugees from Ukraine and Western Balkans his country has no experience of migration, contrary to Western and Northern European countries.
“We haven’t developed a multi-cultural society,” he said. “We prefer to show our solidarity in a voluntary way. Mandatory quotas have a negative psychological effect and an overwhelming majority in my country opposes it.”
According to Chmelar, EU must first have complete control of its external borders. “It takes time for us and we need to reduce the risks before sharing. Citizens’ fears are legitimate. They saw a flow of refugees in a situation when EU had lost control of its borders. Social cohesion could be at risk.”
He agreed with Wikström that previous relocation decisions had been a failure. The Czech Republic pledged to receive refugees from the hotspots in Italy and Greece but stopped making pledges when its requests for information on the asylum seekers hadn’t been answered.
A decision on relocation should already have been taken by the Council but is likely to be postponed until next presidency. Is a compromise solution possible in the Council? Yes, but only by consensus, Chmelar replied. “We could miss next deadline.”
Asked by The Brussels Times about the prospects of a compromise, Cecilia Wikström replied that there are differences of opinions between the Parliament and the Council and that they will have to be discussed in coming negotiations. That includes also the current differences in asylum acceptance rates between member states.
The Brussels Times