When reforming asylum law within the European Union, the member states have resolved the last major point of contention: the European Council reached agreement on the so-called crisis regulation. This sets rules in the event that a country is affected by exceptionally high numbers of refugees. Refugees can be held in camps for a very long time and their rights can be massively restricted.
The Italian government initially had the impression that the Spanish EU Council Presidency had gone too far towards accommodating the German government with its compromise paper. It was primarily about the work of private sea rescuers. Ultimately, they agreed on cosmetic corrections. What matters to the German government remained in the text, although less prominently: Operations by civilian sea rescuers cannot be used to activate the crisis regulation. Only the governments of Poland and Hungary voted against the compromise, while Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia abstained.
However, the decisions do not yet have the character of law. Rather, the governments agreed on their position on the draft law presented by the Commission. The final negotiations on the entire package with the European Parliament can now begin. They should be completed before the European elections – as a sign that the EU is finding joint means to reduce the number of refugees arriving in Europe.
The reform is now intended to ensure that all refugees are registered at the external borders and undergo a security check. Those asylum seekers with little chance of success can be held in camps for twelve weeks and deported from there after a fast-track procedure. The member states must determine the case of a “migration crisis” by a qualified majority (around two thirds). Then, in extreme cases, all refugees could be interned for months.
Germany is no longer blocking itself from the last cruelty in the kit of the major European asylum reform, the so-called crisis regulation. “We accept our responsibility, we agree,” said Interior Minister Faeser in Brussels, following a word of power from the Chancellor to the coalition partner the Greens. Refugees can therefore be locked up in camps for months if there is an exceptional rush at the borders. Faeser emphasized that she had negotiated some relief for migrants into the text. Germany’s role in European migration policy is still to put a humanitarian cloak over the ugly things. But that doesn’t change the fact that a turning point in European migration policy is being prepared here, with Berlin’s support.
The Greens, especially in Germany, had expressed concerns about these tough rules. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser assessed that the crisis was now defined as truly “extraordinary” and she also included humanitarian relief in the text. She said she was happy that her government was able to enforce “its ideas of humanity and order.” However, an open dispute is now breaking out among the Greens. Parts of the party said they were “appalled” by the course taken by their own party leadership. The reform provides for a “historically unprecedented tightening of the asylum law applicable in the EU”. Contrary to the claims of the party leadership, those seeking protection from countries such as Syria or Afghanistan could be locked up in camps at the external borders and deported to countries outside the EU without examining their reasons for fleeing. That is the “task of the green core positions”. The party leadership ignores party decisions and tries to calm the base internally with “false allegations”.
At the EU level, the issue of the agreement with Tunisia continues to play a role. The EU is offering the country a total of one billion euros in financial aid, linked to the expectation that migrants will be prevented from crossing to Italy. The EU said that they are still in contact with the Tunisian government and will continue to breathe life into the agreement. There is speculation in Brussels that Saied is playing poker for more money and that he is also under domestic political pressure. Members of the opposition he suppressed criticize that the EU is displaying “colonialist behavior.” An interview with French President Emmanuel Macron in particular caused anger. He demanded that, in addition to money and materials, the EU should also send its own experts to Tunisia to support the Tunisian coast guard.
The agreement in the EU Council should now be the start of the solidarity distribution among all EU members. The planned reforms are intended to ensure that all arriving migrants are fully recorded at the external borders. At least in principle, they offer the introduction to a system of solidarity-based distribution of refugees across all member states. Above all, the EU relies on detaining asylum seekers at the external borders with little chance of success and deporting them again from there. The most important goal: The number of refugees in Europe should decrease.
In the European elections in June 2024, the aim is to show the electorate with the completed reform: Europe is acting together on migration issues, Europe has a plan, Europe does not need nationalists and populists. The reforms alone will hardly be enough to stop the right-wing wave that is expected in the European elections. They’re too late for that. After the crisis years of 2015 and 2016, it took the European Union too long to find a common migration policy. Now it is looking for short-term solutions. An agreement was hastily concluded with the shady Tunisian President Kais Saied to prevent the migrants from crossing to Italy. Similar deals with Egypt and Morocco will probably follow. The only European government to raise moral concerns is the German one. But the defining figure of European migration policy is currently not Germany, but the Italian post-fascist Giorgia Meloni. She will probably also dominate the next stage of the migration debates. The aim will be to no longer process European asylum procedures in Europe, but on other continents, for example in North Africa. There are fewer and fewer governments in Europe that oppose such ideas. Refugee-friendly states like Sweden and Denmark have committed themselves to a course of isolation, even in a liberal country like Belgium, refugees have to sleep in tents on the streets. And in France, Marine Le Pen is waiting to be deployed.
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