The lowest common denominator

With the rapprochement of the EU interior ministers at their informal meeting in Copenhagen, there are signs of agreement in the EU on a common asylum system by the end of the year. The agreements will ensure minimum standards. Above all, the rule remains that asylum procedures must take place where the applicant first reaches EU territory.

There will be no exceptions to the so-called Dublin II Regulation. Speaking for the Danish EU presidency in Copenhagen, Morten Bodskov, the minister responsible, said support for an internal distribution of refugees had not been forthcoming among his counterparts.

The southern EU states in particular, which are currently taking in a particularly large number of refugees, had repeatedly spoken out in favor of internal redistribution. Last year, Greece, Malta and Italy, for example, were particularly interested in a new scheme. They met with insurmountable resistance from the northern EU member states. Germany, too, made it clear on several occasions that such a burden-sharing arrangement could not be made with the German government.

That was once different. At the end of the 1990s, it was not asylum seekers from North Africa but civil war refugees from the former Yugoslavia who sought refuge in Europe. At the time, Germany was at the forefront of those arguing for burden-sharing in Europe. Hartmut Nassauer, then spokesman for the Christian Democrats in the European Parliament on home affairs, called for more solidarity in the EU. In November 1998, he demanded on behalf of the Christian Democratic Party of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) that effective burden-sharing "necessarily" presupposes that when refugees are admitted, "their distribution among other member states should also be regulated according to an appropriate key".

Early warning mechanism
Times have changed. "We have never called for a compulsory distribution of refugees," EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom now said in Copenhagen. She pointed out that there is a pilot project for Malta to take refugees from the small Mediterranean island nation. She conceded, "Some member states could have done more there.". But how it continues with this program and its continuation or even expansion to other main burden bearers in the refugee reception, Denmark's Justice Minister Bodskov left open. Future resettlement programs could only be decided once the experience with the Malta pilot project had been evaluated.

Instead, according to Bodskov and Malmstrom, EU interior ministers want to introduce an early-warning mechanism in the future that would allow them to identify at an early stage when an EU state's asylum system is at risk of being overloaded. The aim is to prevent conditions like those in Greece, where the asylum system had obviously collapsed. Repatriations under the Dublin II regulation are practically suspended because of this. The European Court of Human Rights had also condemned states that were still sending refugees back to Greece.

Malmstrom is therefore counting on supporting the asylum systems of the individual EU states. Solidarity is most likely to be achieved by ensuring that they work everywhere. "Fair procedures for all everywhere in the EU" must be the goal. At present, however, the community is still far from achieving this – as is shown not least by the very different recognition rates for asylum seekers.

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