EU interior ministers on Thursday (7 March) failed to conclude an overhaul of the bloc’s migration policy, meaning that under the Juncker Commission, no further progress can be expected on a dossier expected to take centre stage at the European elections.
After the proposal of a package of laws to overhaul the European asylum system, five of the seven laws have been agreed.
However, EU member states have been deadlocked for more than a year on the most important one: the planned harmonisation of the bloc’s asylum procedures and the controversial question of relocation quotas for refugees across the bloc.
“It is the official day to conclude that there’s no agreement on asylum,” an EU diplomat told reporters in Brussels.
This is hardly a surprise, given that the Commission’s proposals have been facing fierce opposition from the Visegard group.
On Wednesday (6 March), the Commission took stock of its migration policy since 2014, with EU’s migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos putting on a brave face.
Europe’s migration crisis is over, Avramopoulos proclaimed on Wednesday, blaming “misinformation, untruths and fake news” for obscuring the debate on the issue, which he said could dominate the campaign for the European elections in May.
However, Avramopoulos warned that Spain was “under particular migratory pressure” and would continue to need emergency support from the EU and “migration will continue to be an important topic” in the coming year.
Yet despite the falling numbers, the perception of high levels of migration remains. Some 40% of Europeans consider immigration to be one of the two most important issues facing the EU, according to a Eurobarometer study.
Meanwhile, European governments have been deadlocked for more than a year on the planned overhaul of the bloc’s asylum policy and the controversial question of relocation quotas.
Before the ministers meeting, Germany proposed that the EU countries at least agree on parts of the project before the European elections in late May.
“We are in favour of a common asylum package, but it seems that this body of legislation can no longer be passed in this legislature,” German interior minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) said before the meeting and called on his counterparts to “detach parts of this set of rules and try to make progress in this legislature.”
“In this position, to proceed step by step, we are also coordinated with the German Chancellor,” he told reporters.
According to Seehofer, EU states should agree as soon as possible on the establishment of a European asylum agency, rules for the storage of data such as fingerprints and possibly also on requirements for the resettlement of migrants from third countries.
There is resistance from several member states and in the European Parliament on the plans. Especially countries like Italy, Austria and Malta, as well as the Visegrad Four with Hungary and Poland at the forefront, do not want to be compelled to accept migrants, nor split the reform package as such.
Under the current Dublin Regulation, the country where a migrant enters EU territory for the first time is responsible for an asylum procedure. The proposed Commission migration law package is meant to relieve Italy and Greece and spread responsibility for immigration.
According to EU diplomats, the Baltic countries and Austria were willing to compromise, while Spain has not yet adopted a position.
While EU interior ministers concluded their last Council session before the European elections in May without tangible progress, at the upcoming EU summit later this month, for the first time in years, migration has not been set on the official agenda.
Considering the deadlock, an EU diplomat said he “considers it a relief” that the asylum reform is not on the agenda: “We have nothing to discuss anyway.”
[Edited by Georgi Gotev]