Orban and Greens announce resistance

Brussels After a long day of negotiations, the 27 EU interior ministers agreed on a far-reaching reform of the European asylum system. The decision was made by a qualified majority on Thursday evening. Some countries, including Poland and Hungary, did not want to agree to the compromise.

Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) was relieved and thanked her colleagues for a “historic decision”. That wasn’t easy for many, now you have to work on the concrete implementation, she said.

With the reform, the ministers want to establish a functioning European asylum system, after national solo efforts had recently increased. On the one hand, the reform is intended to reduce the number of refugees across Europe and, on the other hand, to better distribute the burden between the EU countries. The package contains two key innovations:

  1. fast track procedure for asylum seekers at the EU’s external borders: Anyone who comes from a country with a low recognition rate should in future have to submit their application at the border and wait for the outcome of the procedure for a few weeks or months in a secure reception center at the border. Rejected asylum seekers would then be flown out directly without having entered the EU. The governments are hoping for a deterrent effect: the procedure is intended to deter migrants from making their way to Europe at all.
  2. solidarity mechanism: There should be no forced distribution of refugees within Europe because some Eastern European countries refuse to take in refugees from the Mediterranean. But no state should be able to escape the new solidarity mechanism: those who do not want to take in refugees must instead make a compensation payment to help the Mediterranean states.

The agreement of the interior ministers is not yet the final breakthrough, the European Parliament still has to approve the reform. Changes are expected with many MEPs rejecting member states’ hard line.

Asylum law tightened: Greens announce resistance

The spokesman for the German Greens in the European Parliament, Rasmus Andresen, has already announced that they will strongly reject the package. The fast-track procedures threatened “mass internment in violation of human rights at the EU’s external borders”.

Green party leader Ricarda Lang writes on Twitter that Germany should not have approved the reform proposal. But she also wrote: “This is a bloody difficult decision that no one took lightly. That’s why I have respect for everyone who, in the overall assessment, came to a different decision than I did.”

Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck defended the agreement despite all reservations. “The fact that the EU can still come together is a value, especially at a time when we have to stand together as a Union,” said the Green politician on Thursday evening of the German Press Agency in Berlin. “I have great respect for those who come to other assessments for humanitarian reasons. I hope they also see that there are reasons to acknowledge this result.”

Poland and Hungary do not want to accept defeat

The EU ministers were relieved to have finally found a compromise. The pressure was great: the states have been discussing the asylum package for three years. There are no longer any excuses for not reaching an agreement, said Swedish Council President Maria Malmer Stenegard in the morning.

Faeser also pushed for a decision, because otherwise there would be a return of national border controls. “If we don’t succeed today, the Schengen area will be in danger.”

Nevertheless, the negotiations dragged on into the evening. Poland and Hungary signaled right from the start that the compromise was unacceptable. Deputy Interior Minister Bartosz Grodecki said Poland should be “punished” with monetary payments if it does not take in refugees from the Mediterranean region. You can’t explain that to the Polish population, who have just taken in a million refugees from Ukraine.

>> Read here: More refugees in Italy: right-wing government decides on state of emergency

Grodecki also criticized the fact that the reform should be decided with a qualified majority. In his view, a decision of such magnitude would have to be taken unanimously – by the heads of government.

The no from Poland and Hungary had been expected. Nor did their votes matter, because as long as no other large member state joined the opponents, they could simply be outvoted. 15 states that represent at least 65 percent of the EU population are sufficient for a qualified majority.

Additional aid for the Mediterranean countries

Spain and France appeared to support the compromise, but Italy, Greece and Malta initially expressed concerns. The support of the other states was not enough for them. Since they are supposed to set up and operate the new reception camps at the borders, they fear being left with the costs.

The three “frontline states” in the Mediterranean could not simply be overruled, because the pact would then be invalid. Therefore, further changes to the compromise proposal had to be made before Italy and Greece were also on board. Malta abstained until the end.

EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson promised that the Commission would provide “at least one billion euros” from the EU budget to get the fast-track procedures at the external borders off the ground. Italy’s interior minister Matteo Piantedosi was finally satisfied with the assurances. “We have to make sure that the border procedures are possible,” he said. Today is the day when something new begins.

The law is to be passed before the 2024 European elections

Germany rebuffed the demand to exempt families of underage children from the fast-track procedures. A large majority of the other states rejected this. But Faeser doesn’t want to admit defeat just yet. She announced that Germany, along with Ireland, Portugal and Luxembourg, would again propose the derogation in negotiations with the European Parliament.

EU interior ministers agree on stricter asylum law

The representatives of Poland and Hungary complained that their objections to the mandatory solidarity mechanism were overruled. This violates the decisions of the EU summit. They announced that their leaders Viktor Orban and Mateusz Morawiecki will raise the issue at the next EU summit at the end of June.

The agreement was also important because the European elections are due in June 2024 and the unresolved asylum issue should not dominate the election campaign. The forthcoming negotiations with the European Parliament should ideally be concluded by the end of the year. Then the laws could be passed before the election. Otherwise, changed political power relations could make renegotiations necessary.

More: “National borders would be an absolute disaster” – economy demands EU asylum reform

With agency material.

First publication: 08.06.2023, 4:47 p.m.

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