Berlin sets out plan for automatic relocation of asylum seekers
Germany has proposed an automatic relocation scheme for asylum seekers in which their applications would be examined at the EU's external borders. Politico reports in its article Germany sets out plan for automatic relocation of asylum seekers that a four-page document, seen by POLITICO, was distributed to member countries by Berlin last week in an effort to make progress on asylum reform ahead of the German presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of next year. European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, is expected to put forward her migration proposals in February.
The German proposal is presented as a so-called non-paper, which means that it's meant merely for discussion — as is made clear in the title, which contains the words “food for thought.” The document has some elements that could win favor from both Mediterranean and northern states, but its call for automatic relocation, and the lack of alternative solidarity measures for countries that don't want to take part, could upset Central and Eastern European countries, according to diplomats. Furthermore, countries such as Hungary have always opposed mandatory relocation and, despite the word not being used in the document, it is clear that this scheme would be compulsory. On Monday, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer is expected to present the document to his colleagues at one of their regular gatherings in Brussels, and on Thursday and Friday there will be meetings in Berlin with EU member countries, diplomats said.
One of the document's key aims is to scrap the Dublin regulation under which asylum claims are dealt with in the country of first arrival. Dublin creates “clear imbalances” as “in 2018, 75 percent of all applications for international protection were lodged in only five member states,” the document says, a point that will come as no surprise to Italy and Greece.
But Dublin is also “inefficient” since “in the entire EU, applicants are transferred to the member state (originally) responsible in only 3 percent of cases, thus allowing for a free choice of the member state responsible by the applicant,” which is a point Germany and northern European countries have been making: that it is very hard to send asylum seekers back to the country of first arrival.
To reform the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), the document calls for an initial assessment of asylum applications at the external border, a new regime for determining which member country is responsible for examining an application, and measures to stop asylum seekers moving illegally from one country to another (which in migration jargon is called “secondary movements”).
There is no new proposal on returning people to their home country, which is a key issue as less than half of rejected migrants are successfully returned. All applicants should be registered in the Eurodac fingerprints database, the German document says, and clearly false or inadmissible applications “shall be denied immediately at the external border.” This should be done quickly, it says. “Initial assessments must be completed within a few weeks. Appropriate measures, if necessary including measures restricting freedom of movement, must ensure that those who wish to enter the EU undergo such assessments.” Decisions could be appealed since “denial of the asylum application and the subsequent refusal of entry constitute a single decision subject to one-time legal remedy.”
Such an automatic relocation scheme is designed to be permanent and not merely used in a crisis, which one diplomat said will mean the likes of Hungary and Poland will describe it as "a constant pull factor” that could make migration seem attractive.
There's another aspect over which EU countries have been fighting for years: Which country will be responsible for the asylum claim? In the German plan, EASO, the EU agency for asylum, would play a key role. There's already a Commission proposal to turn EASO into the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) and in the German plan if an applicant gets through the initial assessment, then “the EUAA would determine which member state is responsible for examining the asylum application.” Yet the agency is often criticized for its internal troubles and having “increased powers could be a problem for some member states,” said one diplomat.
The decision on which country would be responsible would be taken on the basis of a “fair share” through factors such as population size and GDP. The German document looks at other key points, including how to regulate access to the welfare state: “accommodation and social benefits would be provided only in the member state responsible” but “social benefits should be funded EU-wide as far as possible” and “paid according to an index which would ensure that benefits are at an equivalent level across the EU, independent of the member state.” “We are currently in talks at different levels and in different formats on the Common European Asylum System” said a German official. “The aim is to bring positions closer together and to find common solutions. The German proposal is intended to contribute to this.”