Migranti in strada dopo l'incendio che ha devastato il campo profughi di Moria a Lesbo (La Presse)

Europe’s Last Stand on Immigration Reform

The controversial reorganization of the migration system in Europe is imminent. Due to its Council Presidency, Germany may even possess more weight than usual. However, a consensus among the member states remains inconceivable.

The Common European Asylum System

The EU is standing on the precipice regarding its Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Negotiations over this new approach have stalled since 2016, as several member states do not concur with the many of the plans CEAS includes.

Germany plays a crucial role in the negotiations, particularly now due to its presidency and Berlin has changed its stance on immigration as of late. Instead of insisting on a mandatory admission quota for all 27 EU countries, as it has for years, Berlin is now also in favor of “flexible solidarity”.

The pending reform is primarily about establishing the most uniform standards possible within the EU to process and assess asylum applications. Besides, there is a fair distribution of refugees, common standards for legal migration, and a coordinated and reinforced deportation policy in the event of illegal migration. Time is of the essence, as for the first time since the 2015 refugee crisis, the number of people coming to the EU and five other European countries has seen an increase over the previous year.

Seven Proposals for EU Asylum Reform

The EU asylum reform comprises seven legislative proposals, 5 of which find consensus among the members.

1. Reform of the Dublin Regulation. It is the most controversial point. The critical question is which country is responsible for examining the asylum application in the event of strong migration movements. According to the previous law, the country where the migrant first sets foot on European soil must take care of it. However, this leads to an utterly unequal burden on the member states.

2. An expansion of the Eurodac regulation identification database to prevent secondary migration and illegal migration better. In addition to fingerprints, facial images will also be stored in the future.

3. Strengthening of the EU’s asylum agency and support the member states in asylum procedures.

4. A new recognition regulation that ought to ensure that asylum seekers have the same chance of asylum under the same conditions. The aim is to achieve uniform protection criteria and greater consistency in terms of recognition rates. In addition, severe penalties for “asylum shopping” should be enforceable.

5. Europe’s Reception Conditions Directive aims to ensure that asylum seekers are received decently and treated equally throughout the EU.

6. Human traffickers should be combated through resettlement programs. Special selection processes are intended to enable legal migration for those in particular need of protection.

7. A new asylum procedure regulation aiming to make asylum procedures more efficient, including harmonized rights for asylum seekers and more severe penalties for abuse. The aim is also a common list of safe third countries. So far, no consent has been reached.

Juncker’s Big Mistake

Besides these points, the services are to be harmonized within the EU — naturally taking into account the respective cost of living. The penalties for illegally escaping from another EU country to Germany — which continues to be the most sought after destination of many asylum seekers because benefits are comparatively high — would also be significantly increased.

The EU Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, had made numerous proposals for a modern European asylum system in recent years. Together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, Juncker made the grave mistake in the spring of 2016 of submitting a proposal to reform the distribution of refugees (Dublin Regulation) without a significant vote, which obliged all member states to admit refugees by way of quota.

Massive resistance came from numerous Eastern, and Central European countries as these did not want Brussels to dictate which and how many refugees they would take in. This dispute continues to this day and continues to weigh heavily on sentiment within the EU.

The Heat is On Von der Leyen

The EU Commission knows how toxic the issue is and has postponed its reform proposals several times since the spring. Ursula Von der Leyen is under massive pressure. In early summer, they received several letters from the EU capitals: Austria and Denmark warned that there should be no “automatic and compulsory distribution” of refugees.

The interior ministers of seven Eastern European countries have also announced: “fierce resistance” to mandatory distribution. In contrast, five southern European countries demanded in a letter that a “compulsory redistribution mechanism” was “essential.” The reason is obvious: the Mediterranean countries are usually the first point of contact for migrants and therefore, according to the Dublin Regulation, have to process the applications and take care of the asylum seekers – which does not seem like a fair way of sharing a burden many European states have never asked for.

Nevertheless, Europe needs to find answers and quickly.

Most importantly, however, Europe also needs to find answers for the growing number of European states and citizens who have learned from 2015 and want better solutions this time around.