June 25, 2020
Spain may reject German asylum-reform plan
One of the priorities of the incoming German EU presidency is asylum reform, spearheaded by Horst Seehofer, the German interior minister. The EU was aiming to roll out a reform proposal this spring, but the pandemic intruded. Earlier this month, Seehofer outlined a three-part German plan, but the European Commission is signalling that it would be more practical to delay the asylum discussion until after the summer after a deal on the EU budget and the recovery plan. In the meantime, we note opposition to Seehofer's plan from the SPD and, more importantly, from Spain.
The outline of the plan is as follows: first, an expedited asylum processing system at the EU's external borders, which would allow people with little hope of being granted asylum to be turned back; second, a quota system to redistribute asylum seekers among member states, with alternative support being provided by countries that reject quotas; and third, measures to prevent people with asylum from moving between member states.
Spain's problem with this plan is that it makes no allowance for a distribution of migrants rescued at sea. According to El País, Spain is trying to chart a middle way between supporting the expedited asylum proposal together with Germany, France and Italy; and building a coalition of the Mediterranean states on the sea rescues. The existing compromise on sea rescues involves only Italy and Malta. Spain decided not to take part last autumn. Despite the importance of the sea migrants issue, the paper notes that 80% of asylum seekers in Spain come from Latin America.
The expedited asylum procedures at the border would require processing migrants before they are actually on EU soil, which poses problems of due process. This is the main objection of the SPD. We would expect a coalition within the European Parliament to oppose this as well.
Countries like Austria, with no external EU border, seem to be the winners of the compromise pushed by Seehofer. Austria is opposed to mandatory quotas, having hosted a large number of refugees in recent years. Seehofer is in fact proposing that countries can refuse to take in refugees in exchange for so-called flexible support. This seems to be thought mostly as beefing up the external border protection with material and personnel, which Austria says it is providing. But border countries will likely complain that they will disproportionately bear the cost of settling and integrating successful asylum seekers, and there doesn't seem to be a plan for the EU to help materially with that.