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Dublin and asylum: no agreement (for now). Why did the reform come to a standstill?

Questions and answers on the failure of the Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg. European governments were presumably demanding substantial changes in EU asylum and Regulatory systems, but in practice they were divided, contradictory, and they allowed national interests and egoisms to prevail, leaving Italy and Mediterranean Countries alone for the umpteenth time. Rome is expected to build political and diplomatic alliances, but partners like Hungary and Austria are unlikely to benefit the Country. Next step: the summit of June 28-29.

Lussemburgo, 5 giugno: la riunione dei ministri degli Interni Ue

In words, they all agree. But when it comes to facts they have opposing positions. Thus the Reform of the Dublin System is likely to be suspended. And while every national government declares victory (leaders address voters with an eye to opinion polls), the impression is that the losers represent the majority, starting with the Countries bordering on the Mediterranean. Not to mention the fact that this issue concerns migrants, human beings, and thus human dignity is the victim of policies unable to provide serious and feasible answers, other than shedding some tears at the news of drowned migrants …

What is the matter at stake?

The proposal is for a Regulation establishing “criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person.” The text currently in force – that applies to all EU member Countries –  is known as Dublin III (Regulation (EC) No. 604/2013 (replacing Dublin II Regulation 343/2003), that gave a legal framework to the Dublin Convention ratified in 1990, an international Treaty enforced in 1997. Under the Dublin III Regulation the Member State through which the asylum-seeker first entered the EU is responsible for examining his or her asylum claim. This underlying criteria dates back to 2003, when nobody yet imagined that migratory pressures would increase out of proportion, imposing an unsustainable burden on Italy, Greece, Malta and, to a lesser degree,  on Spain, Cyprus and Bulgaria. It should also be said that thanks to widely criticised, controversial agreements with Libya and Turkey, in the past months the number of arrivals has decreased. However, the fact remains that

Italy is ultimately was left along to face a social and demographic phenomenon of huge proportions

that fuelled fears – in most cases unmotivated –, insecurity across the population, coupled by episodes of xenophobia and racism deliberately whipped up by a number of media outlets and political parties for electoral purposes. On the opposite front stands the Church, with her charity organizations and volunteer work, simultaneously reaffirming the respect of the Italy’s rule of law on the part of the “newcomers.”

What is the reason for the reform?

The reform of the Dublin III system was widely requested owing to the need to adapt EU regulations to the changed circumstances. Indeed, it is a question of shouldering the burden of certain Countries heavily exposed to migratory pressure, to regulate internal refugee flows as well as to secure greater solidarity (a key word) and a fairer sharing of responsibility (another fundamental word), between Member States under the guiding principle “common challenge, common answer.” The EU Commission proposal and the EU Parliament decision – albeit behind schedule – aim at ensuring a corrective allocating mechanism for the reception and management of migrant inflows, while upgrading external border control shared by EU27 – the UK is already considered out of the picture.

In this respect the text adopted by the European Parliament in November 2017 is the most advanced,

as it substantially repeals the “first Country of arrival” rule, introduces an automatic asylum-seeker allocation criteria based on the GDP of each Member State , on humanitarian grounds, in particular on family, cultural or social ties of the immigrant, of his/her language skills, Country of arrival and profession. Significantly, Parliament and Commission call for a “Marshall Plan” for the African Countries of departure or transit of migratory flows, thereby boosting development and reaching out to the root causes of migration.

Why “no”?

The Dublin III reform reached a standstill during the June 5 Home Affairs Ministers meeting in Luxembourg, marked by a set of political and legal implications that can be summarised as follows: nobody really wants the widely demanded reform of the asylum system.

Countries bordering on the Mediterranean – Italy, Greece, Spain, Malta, Cyprus – call for it but don’t support it

(moreover, they don’t support the compromise solution presented by the Bulgarian presidency-in-office), maybe because they fear it would only make the present situation worse. On top of this, they arrived at the Council with conflicting positions. For sure, the Visegrad  Group (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) and the Baltic countries (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia) have no intention of giving hospitality to African and Middle Eastern migrants. For different reasons, the reform is obstructed by Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Romania and Slovenia. Bulgaria had proposed to redefine the number of years in which the country of arrival is “responsible” for the migrant (2 years? 8 years? 10 years? – the proposals made so far) and to confirm the criterion of joint responsibility of migrant arrivals into Europe. Polarized positions prevailed and the compromise solution presented by Sofia was shelved.

What happens next?

The Bulgarian presidency will submit its draft proposal to the European Council of June 28-29, without expecting a decision. The next meeting of Home Affairs Ministers is scheduled for July 11-12 under the Austrian presidency that announced to push the bloc into a “Copernican revolution”, reportedly aimed at strengthening internal and external borders and to exclude all forms of redistribution of asylum-seekers, thereby proceeding in the opposite direction from the one demanded by Mediterranean Countries. In fact

Austria’s Interior Minister expressed his “solidarity to European citizens”, but “not to migrants.”

In this climate, leaders are hardening their positions. Hungarian PM Viktor Orban is the leading proponent of border closures. His electoral slogan – not one migrant in Hungary – rejects all expressions of solidarity towards Italy and Greece. On his part the Belgian Prime Minister, Theo Francken, whose Country is unquestionably unaffected by the tragic situations registered in Southern Europe, said in clear terms that Europe “must turn back migrants’ boats”, in spite of the Convention on Human Rights, of the inspiring principles of the European Union and the thousand-year long rescue at sea regulations.

Can there be a new start?

“I am deeply disappointed at reports coming out of the Justice and Home Affairs Council today concerning the Dublin regulation and the reforms of the Common European Asylum System”, said Cecilia Wikstroem, Swedish MEP, rapporteur for the reform of the Dublin Regulation, on the failure of the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg. “Time is quickly running out if we want to find a solution to the Dublin regulation in this mandate”, namely, before the European elections of 2019. “Citizens expect results”, she said. And thus “I hope that EU governments are willing to set enough of their differences aside” in view of the summit at the end of the month. Italy’s new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that at the next European Council meeting he will ask for an overhaul of the Dublin System to “ensure equal share of responsibilities along with obligatory and automatic redistribution of asylum-seekers among EU member states.”

But he can rest assured that asking will deliver zero results unless he first builds a tight political and diplomatic network,

in the attempt to make other European governments listen to reason. It’s the advice that the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani gave to Conte from Brussels. “Italy must contribute to build bridges” at EU level “for the advancement of a spirit of cooperation enabling a pragmatic reform” of the asylum system, since the EU summit in June is likely to be this legislature’s last chance” to promote negotiations between Parliament and Council and secure a “solidarity-based reform.”






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