Berlin Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) emphasized the urgency of a rapid reform of the EU asylum system. “We now have to make the right decisions to finally organize migration in Europe effectively,” Faeser told the Handelsblatt.
The European Union (EU) has not been able to reform its refugee policy for years. But even the crisis of 2015/2016 provided little impetus for this. Next Thursday, the EU interior ministers will try again: In Luxembourg, they will discuss the controversial reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).
Above all, countries on the EU’s external borders such as Italy and countries such as Germany, which are the destination of many asylum seekers, have a great interest in reaching an agreement on this soon with a view to the European elections next year.
“It’s a tremendous feat,” said Faeser. It is essential “that we regulate, control and clearly reduce irregular migration at the same time”. Despite all the resistance in the negotiations, Faeser called for joint action. “I am convinced that we can achieve further viable compromises,” she said. The longstanding mutual blockade of the EU states has already been “broken through”, explained the SPD politician with regard to regulations that have already been passed, according to which everyone entering the EU must be reliably checked and registered at the external borders.
The EU states are currently trying to agree on the main features of a CEAS reform. Among other things, it is about the question of whether there should be preliminary checks on asylum applications at the European external borders in order to decide within a short period of time on the protection of people with little prospect of asylum in the EU.
Baerbock calls asylum procedures at the borders “curse and opportunity at the same time”
Faeser said: “Those who have no prospect of a right to stay in the EU would have to return to their home country before they travel across the EU.” “Asylum procedure. “We want to give special protection to children and other vulnerable groups,” emphasized the minister.
Federal Family Minister Lisa Paus (Greens) explained that the traffic light government wanted to work in the current EU negotiations to “generally exclude families with children under the age of 18 and all unaccompanied minors from the planned asylum procedures at the EU borders”.
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Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) is also urging that no one be stuck in border procedures for more than a few weeks and that minors and families with children are exempt. The right to asylum should not be fundamentally undermined, Baerbock told the newspapers of the Funke media group. The position is not united in the traffic light coalition. FDP parliamentary group leader Christian Dürr wants to include minors in preliminary asylum checks at the borders.
The Union also criticizes the exemption. The government is trying to soften the original proposal of the EU Commission “further in various places,” said the parliamentary secretary of the parliamentary group, Thorsten Frei (CDU), the Berlin “Tagesspiegel” (Sunday). “If you exclude families from the procedures at the external borders, that weakens the approach.” Their needs must and can be taken into account in the procedures themselves.
Baerbock called asylum procedures at the borders “curse and opportunity at the same time”. “Border procedures are highly problematic because they interfere with civil liberties.” But the EU Commission’s proposal on this is the only realistic chance of achieving an “orderly and humane distribution procedure” in an EU of 27 very different countries in the foreseeable future.
“But even inaction would have bitter consequences,” warned the Green politician. Without a common European response, the trend is already everywhere towards “more isolation, more pushbacks, more fences”. And without order at the external borders, it is only a matter of time before one EU country after another starts talking about internal border controls again.
The EU reform proposal rests on two pillars. Asylum seekers with little chance of success should go through a procedure at the external borders and be immediately returned from there if they are rejected. The remaining refugees are to be distributed to the member states in solidarity in order to relieve the countries at the external borders.
Although Poland and Hungary are refusing to take in refugees, they cannot prevent an agreement on their own, as a qualified majority in the Council of Member States is sufficient. Should the reform come into force, Warsaw and Budapest would still have the opportunity to buy their way out of the solidarity obligation.
A crucial question will be whether Italy will accept the concept. The Italian authorities would be responsible for a large part of the procedures at the external borders. In order to make it easier for the government in Rome to agree, the member states are discussing the proposal for an upper limit for border procedures: if the number of refugees is particularly high, the immigrants should be forwarded to other EU states.
The federal government is also struggling with the EU plan. Brussels considers it unlikely that Germany will prevail with the demand to exempt families from border procedures. That could make it difficult for the Greens to agree.
On the other hand, it is clear that the costs of failure would be enormous.
The border control-free Schengen area would be in danger – and with it the smooth functioning of the European internal market.
Faeser warns of “return of barriers at many European internal borders”
Interior Minister Faeser does not rule out reintroducing internal border controls at Germany’s external borders. One wants to remain “internally a Europe of open borders,” said Faeser. But this requires “effective protection” of the external borders. “Otherwise there is a risk of the barriers returning at many internal European borders – and the people and the economy in the EU would be set back decades,” warned the minister, emphasizing: “We must prevent this together.”
The background to the consultations of the EU interior ministers scheduled for Thursday is the increased number of refugees. For months, many people have been trying to reach southern Italy from North Africa via the dangerous Mediterranean route. According to information from Rome, more than 50,000 migrants have come to Italy on boats since January. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, more than 980 people have died or have been missing since the beginning of the year.
In Germany, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees received a good 100,000 initial asylum applications in the first four months of this year, an increase of around 78 percent compared to the previous year.
Faeser also sees a need for action in the system for distributing asylum seekers. “We have to agree on a reform of the current Dublin rules in order to prevent uncontrolled migration to other EU countries,” she said. “And we need fair distribution in Europe.”
The idea behind this is to be able to limit the number of people entering Germany with a distribution mechanism for refugees, combined with the political goal of counteracting the strengthening of the anti-immigration AfD.
However, it is by no means certain that this will succeed. The forthcoming elections in Spain and Greece are regarded as a possible uncertainty factor. Both countries play a central role when it comes to the success of the EU asylum reform. They are likely to make their approval dependent on the extent to which they are relieved of a limited EU-wide distribution of refugees. However, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic strictly reject any form of mandatory refugee admission.
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