It is already the fifth debate on asylum policy in the European Parliament since the beginning of the year. The majority of its members welcome the European Commission's reform plans as a solution to the crisis.
"Stop the drownings in the Mediterranean, but don't bring the refugees here," European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans got straight to the point in summing up the current fight in the European Parliament. This stance characterizes the political beliefs of various EU members on the subject of asylum policy. Two weeks ago, the Commission presented its plans for a common strategy, and it seemed to have broad support. However, it also seems to have contained a "delayed fuse," as more and more EU governments distanced themselves from the plan over the next several days, especially regarding proposed quotas for the distribution of refugees.
Great Britain immediately made use of its "opt-out," Spain cited economic reasons for not wanting to take in refugees, and France flatly said, no. According to the proposed quotas the French would be required to take in 14 percent of new refugees, Spain 9 percent and Germany 18 percent. Beyond the fight over future distribution, the EU Commission wants to enact the emergency mechanism built into Article 78, paragraph 3 of the EU Treaty in order to deal with the immediate problem of 20,000 war refugees currently waiting in camps. It stipulates that member states are required to grant asylum to recognized refugees.
European Parliament for political change
In the European Parliament the mood is overwhelmingly in favor of more solidarity in the question of asylum policy, and for a new, unified political course. CSU parliamentarian, and leader of the European People's Party (EPP) Group, Manfred Weber, praised the Commission for its attempt to present a seamless proposal.
There were vociferous discussions about details of the plan among Christian Democrats and Conservatives, but Weber said that he saw a clear desire for change in the overall Parliament. He emphasized that it was important to clarify individual points to gain acceptance for new policies among Europe's citizens: i.e. that those denied asylum would deported, otherwise further rules would lose credibility.
Conservative parties in particular greeted the fact that beyond stricter deportation rules, improved security along EU borders was included in the plan, as well as collective military action against human traffickers.
If the proposal fails, its on EU governments
The leader of the Social Democrats, Gianni Pitella, appealed to heads of government saying, "Don't miss this opportunity!" The EU has the chance to finally show that it is capable of acting together in solidarity. Each individual aspect of the proposed new asylum policy is important: improved sea rescue, the fight against human traffickers, control of external borders, and solidarity in the distribution of refugees. Further, the so-called "Dublin Rules" must be rewritten and a path to legal immigration opened. The latter being a point that was also supported by Liberals in the European Parliament.
The dangers of military action against human traffickers
Criticism of plans for EU military action against human traffickers came above all from the Greens, the Left and individual Social Democrats. "If you want to shoot at, or sink refugee boats, then you accept collateral damage," exclaimed Unified Left party chair Gabi Zimmer. She called for making the suffering of refugees the focus of policies, rather than the defensive interests of the European Union.
SPD parliamentarian Birgit Sippel was also of the opinion that such a military intervention could be "highly dangerous," above all because it is impossible to know what kind of reaction it might trigger in the region. That said, the exact details of planned operations off the coast of Libya must first be worked out, but it should be obvious that the possible risks presented to refugees during such an intervention are clear to the EU.
The first statements on the subject of asylum policy from European heads of state will come at their summit meeting in Brussels in the end of June. There is, however, no hope that there will be a quick agreement.