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Unified asylum floated by Brussels

July 13, 2016

Asylum rules unified across the EU have been proposed by the European Commission. The system would deter "asylum shopping." A "common" policy was a stated aim of the bloc's 2009 Lisbon Treaty but was never implemented.

Brüssel EU Kommission Aufhebung Visumspflicht für türkische Staatsbürger Dimitris Avramopoulos
Image: Reuters/F. Lenoir

The continent-wide asylum system proposed on Wednesday would need approval from the bloc's member nations and the European Parliament. An existing redistribution quota system already faces opposition from Hungary and Slovakia.

"The changes will create a genuine common asylum procedure," said EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos in Brussels. It would be generous to the "most vulnerable, but strict to those who try to abuse it," he said.

It should put a stop to asylum-seekers who "try to shop around" after arriving in one EU nation and then divert to another in "secondary movements," he added.

Under existing EU so-called "Dublin" rules, asylum seekers are supposed to apply for protection in the member state they first reach.

'Punitive,' say Greens

Reacting to the commission's proposal, British Greens European parliamentarian Jean Lambert accused the EU's executive of having "an obsession with punitive measures" and seeking to curb rights.

Socialist colleague Birgit Sippel warned against a "lowering of existing EU standards."

Last year, 1.3 million migrants reached the EU via the so-called Balkans route - now largely closed. Many sought asylum in wealthier Germany, prompting some EU nations to suspend participation in Europe's "open borders" system known as "Schengen."

Standardized procedures

The commission proposal unveiled on Wednesday would standardize refugee reception centers across the bloc, unify subsidies, set common rules on residence permits, travel papers, access to jobs, social welfare and healthcare.

Asylum applicants would be guaranteed free legal assistance and the right to a personal interview about their grounds for seeking asylum. If an applicant did not cooperate with authorities and failed to stay put, his or her application could be jeopardized. An applicant's progress towards eligibility for long-term residence after five years would be reset, the time period starting again, if the applicant moved from their designated country.

The EU would draw up a list of so-called "safe" countries of origin, from which asylum would not be granted.

Intention in Lisbon Treaty

The proposal resembles an intention contained in the EU's Lisbon Treaty - adopted in 2007 and effective from late 2009 - that stated that the Union "shall develop a common policy on asylum, subsidiary protection and temporary protection."

That declaration now contained as Article 78 in the EU's main consolidate document also demands compliance with the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees and "other relevant treaties."

Its follow-on passage, Article 79, focuses on regular migration, saying the "Union shall develop a common immigration policy."

Redistribution plan already contentious

Wednesday's unveiling follows a redistribution plan announced in May - an idea opposed especially by eastern EU nations that refuse to accept refugees.

So far, only 3,056 people have been relocated under a system intended for 160,000 persons.

A parallel deal with Turkey in March has reduced arrivals in Greece from war zones such as Syria to a trickle and prompted concerns about human rights.

The virtual closure of that route from Turkey through Greece and into other Balkan nations such as Hungary and Croatia has switched attention to a rise in boat migrant arrivals from African through Libya into Italy.

ipj/msh (Reuters, AP, epd)