Ska Keller: Berlin’s call to reform Dublin ‘better late than never’

This weekend’s German state elections saw an increase in support for right-wing parties, on the back of concerns raised by the refugee crisis. MEP Ska Keller detailed to plans to present a “green alternative” to the Dublin System, and why right-wing parties may have seen an increase in support.

Ska Keller is an MEP with the Alliance ’90/The Greens group in the European Parliament and specialises in migration and EU-Turkey relations.

Alternative for Germany (AfD) politician Alexander Gauland once described the refugee crisis as a gift for his party. Why is it that right-wing parties, not just in Germany, but continent-wide, have profited from the crisis?

There is no simple explanation for this. In part, it is because the centre-right parties have identified refugees as part of the problem, thus legitimising the stance of extreme right-wing parties. Take Slovakia for example, where their Prime Minister, Robert Fico, has warned that Muslims cannot be integrated into society.

In the end, people still didn’t vote for him and shifted towards the right even further. It’s not about the number of refugees, it’s about the pervading feeling society has about the crisis. You can see that right-wing parties often flourish in areas where there are fewer foreigners. Therefore, how we communicate on this issue takes on even more importance.

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There are few people positioned to the left of Angela Merkel in the refugee debate, aside from a few Green MEPs who, at the end of February, presented a “green alternative to the Dublin System”.  Why now, when the shortcomings of the Dublin principles have been known for so long?

We’ve criticised these weaknesses ever since the Dublin System was first established. Now, we thought it was important not to just point out its failings, but to present a viable alternative. We worked on the proposal last year and it took some time to formulate.

As far as Angela Merkel’s position goes, I thought it was right that last year she accepted refugees from Hungary. But, at the same time, asylum regulations were tightened in Germany.

The summit last Monday (7 March), was not about open borders, but about illegal deportations, sending people back to an unsafe third country, Turkey, and selling off human rights. So yes, there is quite a lot of space to the left of Merkel.

How then would an alternative system of returning migrants to Turkey look?

We need to establish legal routes, so people don’t have to feel the need to climb into boats and cross dangerous waters. The redistribution mechanism is also extremely important.

Our proposal includes distributing refugees among the 28 member states, but also taking into account when people already have existing contacts. If all the refugees end up in Greece, Germany and Sweden, then that is a huge problem for those countries. But if all 28 participate, we can absorb a million people. We are a union of 500 million people, after all.

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It seems that a common solution for all member state governments is not in the offing, let alone a legal or humane one.

The governments plan to return irregular migrants to Turkey. However, this is where things become unclear, and the issue of readmission agreements come into play.

The idea is that people who have had their asylum application considered and rejected be sent back. It is ugly, but legal. But European leaders are also talking about sending back Syrians, which will not tally with the agreement, because they will be entitled to asylum here in the EU. Sending them back to Turkey would be illegal.

Beyond this “green alternative”, there is also the matter of a European-wide equal treatment policy of all asylum seekers. Germany, for example, has very high standards, so should they be rolled out across the EU? Or should standards in Germany be relaxed?

Relaxing standards is a no-go. It’s not all good in Germany, where refugee accommodation is not always up to scratch. In principle, there are already EU guidelines that govern the minimum standards for accommodation, procedures etc., but they are often not respected.

Unfortunately, the European Commission has not been stringent enough in enforcing these rules in the past. We were quite satisfied with the basis of those standards, but now they want to tighten them even further, to close any loopholes.

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Currently, there are countries that don’t have to admit any refugees. How do you make member states agree to relocate their fair share, and provide minimum living conditions for the people they do end up taking?

First of all, the minimum standards are a part of EU law, so any member states not adhering to them should be sanctioned by the Commission with infringement procedures.

Regarding the Dublin reforms, there is a fundamental argument at play here; the EU was founded on the principle of solidarity, and you can’t say that this doesn’t apply to asylum as well. A European solution, where we are not dependent on Turkey, is important. We must find this solution together.

The Dublin System has died a slow death because we didn’t reform it earlier. The last reform came in 2013 and the European Parliament consulted all the member states. However, Germany was not happy with it. Now, Berlin, with the same Chancellor, wants it to change. Better late than never, but it is of little help now.

Additionally, we have the Polish government opposed to redistribution. But what if Ukrainian refugees turned up on their border tomorrow? Then they would be interested in reform. The past failures of the German government have to be kept in mind when it comes to reform.

Incidentally, Swedish Prime Minister Löfven recently said at a Parliament plenary meeting that anyone who doesn’t want to participate in an EU-wide asylum system cannot be a part of Schengen. I think he has a point there.

So you are saying that participation in a European asylum system would be a prerequisite for being part of Schengen, and that countries already a part of the area could be excluded if they do not participate?

I think it is charming idea, because the two issues are linked.

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