Luxembourg – EU interior ministers were pessimistic on Tuesday about resolving a deadlock over proposed asylum reforms, reducing the likelihood of settling the issue before an EU summit on June 28-29.
The European Commission proposed a shake-up of EU asylum rules back in 2016 to help redistribute the burden of hosting refugees more evenly across the bloc, after more than a million people arrived in Europe in 2015.
Dispute over the mandatory relocation
But the reforms are mired in a dispute over the mandatory relocation of asylum seekers across the European Union, which is supposed to ease pressure on countries such as Greece and Italy, where many migrants first set foot.
Several central and eastern EU member states, including Poland, Hungary and Austria, have fiercely opposed the move.
We need a compromise
“We will only get out of this hole if we all understand that we need a compromise,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said ahead of talks in the Grand Duchy on the issue. “And whether it will start emerging today, I have my doubts.”
The recent electoral success of far-right parties in countries such as Italy and Slovenia is leading to a “harder political climate” in Europe, added Swedish Minister for Migration Helene Fritzon. Her country has historically accepted a high share of refugees.
“I don’t think that we have a realistic chance of reaching a compromise,” said Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, noting that he was one of the “sceptics” on the issue of relocation.
Two key figures were absent from Tuesday’s talks: German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, and his Italian counterpart Matteo Salvini, who leads the anti-immigrant League party in Italy’s new government.
The compromise currently on the table still has “serious deficits,” said Stephan Mayer, Germany’s parliamentary secretary of state for the Interior Ministry, who attended the Luxembourg talks. For Germany, the priority was “thoroughness over speed,” Mayer added.
Mayer pointed to the idea that those in particular need of protection should be exempted from being returned to the EU-country where they first set foot, while also calling for a common set of asylum standards across the EU.
There is a lot of time
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said there was still “a lot of time” to reach agreement, noting that it would not matter much if the deadline to resolve the issue moved beyond June.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel played down the chance of reaching a deal in an interview with the Sunday edition of Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
“We are working at high speed on an asylum policy agreement, but I am not sure whether we will manage that by the European Council at the end of this month,” she said in reference to the EU summit at the end of the month.