Xinhua News Agency, January 26, 2018
The German government surprisingly announced on Thursday that it would drop its demand to establish a binding refugee quota for each member state in discussions over a reform of the European Union’s (EU) asylum regime.
It was sensible to focus on other topics in light of the EU’s need to achieve progress on joint asylum policy, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere (CDU) told press. De Maiziere argued that it would be “good for the negotiation process to first agree on the points where agreement can be more easily reached.” This included fields such as shared standards for asylum proceedings and conditions of admission.
The minister also pointed to clarifying the responsibility of member states for the registry and processing of refugees under the EU Dublin regime (which mandates that refugees must file for asylum in the first EU member state they enter) as a more urgent priority than quotas.
Nevertheless, de Maiziere emphasized that his government had not given up the objective of ensuring a fair distribution of burdens in asylum policy. The question whether there would ultimately be binding quotas would still be resolved “at the end of negotiations.”
Alongside Sweden and Austria, Germany was one of the EU member states most-heavily affected by the 2015 refugee crisis. According to official estimates, more than one million humanitarian migrants, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have since arrived in the country.
However, Berlin’s outspoken desire for a refugee quota has sparked heated debate within the bloc and hampered attempts to reform EU asylum policy for over a year.
While Germany’s plans to enshrine a binding distribution-system is supported by the EU Commission, the “Visegrad” group comprising Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, remains vehemently opposed. Despite facing legal action by the Commission over their conduct in asylum policy, the “Visegrad” countries insist that the acceptance of refugees is a purely national prerogative.
Breaking ranks with other Western European states and further highlighting divisions within the EU on migration, Austria’s new government has recently expressed sympathy for the “Visegrad” group’s position on the issue.