Nancy Faeser has set the bar high: According to the Federal Minister of the Interior, after many years of dispute, there is a historic chance for the EU countries to agree on a common asylum policy. However, until just before the start of their meeting in Luxembourg, it seemed uncertain whether the interior ministers of the European Union would really be able to pull themselves together on this topic on Thursday.
The issue has returned to the European agenda with urgency as the number of first-time asylum applications in the EU rose by more than 60 percent last year, to nearly 900,000.
Faeser driving force behind consensus effort
Faeser plays with great personal commitment: Germany has recently played a key role behind the scenes in paving the way for a common position among EU member states.
The social democrat obviously thinks the prospects are good; In any case, before the decisive round of ministers, which could provide a template for a debate at the EU summit at the end of June, she spread optimism and spoke of a “historic momentum” for EU refugee policy.
Faeser, of course, ignored the fact that not only are there not all signs of an agreement at EU level, but that there is also headwind at home: the Green coalition partner is arguing about the EU plans, and there are also rumblings in the SPD.
German cultural greats such as the singer Herbert Grönemeyer and the actress Katja Riemann, together with other celebrities, spoke out in an open letter and warned against making concessions to populists.
Border internment camps and mass deportations feared
Critics of the new common asylum policy, which the EU Commission under Ursula von der Leyen has been aiming for for a long time, fear a dismantling of humanitarian protection rights, internment camps and mass deportations at the EU’s external borders.
In the future, asylum procedures should begin there at the time of entry and be completed within a few months if the chances of success for the applications are low. This is the case for refugees from a whole range of home countries, including those arriving from so-called “safe third countries”.
According to the EU Commission, only about a third of unsuccessful asylum seekers are currently returning to their home country. That should change drastically. Therefore, in September 2020, the Commission presented a whole series of proposals for measures, including return assistance, which bring together rules from migration and asylum law as well as integration and border management.
Controversial protection status for children
The stronger security of the EU’s external borders plays a prominent role here, as does improved cooperation with the refugees’ countries of origin and transit.
As goals, the Commission named the most comprehensive registration of asylum seekers possible and a “speedy return procedure” if the accelerated tests turn out negative for them.
The Commission made exceptions for the “most vulnerable people”, including unaccompanied children and children under the age of twelve. Here lies one of the stumbling blocks for Faeser.
The Green Family Minister Lisa Paus has demanded that families with relatives under the age of 18 be given special protection. However, a number of EU countries did not want to accept the lower age limit in the Commission proposal.
European solidarity with loopholes
Another sticking point is the distribution of refugees within the EU and the equalization regulations for countries such as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. In the future, they and other countries that are not willing to accept refugees should make a material contribution so that other states can better shoulder the burden of the influx of refugees. Among other things, a payment of around 20,000 euros per refugee into the “solidarity pool” was under discussion, which the commission had in mind.
Faeser tried to prepare a breakthrough in intensive consultations with countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Sweden. In diplomatic circles in Brussels it was said that only a regulation that exerts as little coercion as possible on the member states has a chance of success.
This indicates that, especially for the distribution of refugees, little more than a complicated compromise could result, confusing and with numerous loopholes for all those who want to evade the desired European solidarity.
But for Faeser like von der Leyen it would be an opportunity to save face. Otherwise, two German politicians would fail on the European stage because of the refugee problem.