Michael Peel, Financial Times, December 9, 2018
Germany has dropped its demands for all EU countries to accept refugees during a migration crisis, in a bid to break the deadlock over efforts to overhaul the bloc’s asylum system.
The move, Berlin’s first public acknowledgment that it must give ground on the issue, draws a line under a divisive EU policy championed by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
It came in a Franco-German discussion paper intended to break two-and-a-half years of destabilising disagreements on migration rule reform. Despite the shift in Berlin, which diplomats had anticipated, many remain pessimistic about the prospect of a breakthrough before a two-day summit of EU leaders starts on Thursday.
The battle over migrants is at the heart of a debate that has brought upheaval to the continent’s politics over the past few years. Belgium’s ruling coalition split on Saturday because of a row over a UN agreement on migration that is opposed by several EU governments.
The Franco-German note — seen by the Financial Times — retains a “solidarity mechanism” for member states to share responsibility for large numbers of migrants, including through “relocating” asylum seekers from frontline countries of entry.
But it refers to “the possibility for a member state, on justified grounds, to derogate by not relocating and implementing alternative measures of solidarity”. This provides an escape clause for central and eastern European countries, such as Poland and Hungary, which have adamantly refused mandatory refugee quotas.
The paper, circulated last week, is part of the long-running battle over proposed reforms to the so-called “Dublin regulation”, which is supposed to govern how asylum seekers are distributed around Europe. The reform initiative was launched in response to a 2015-2016 migration influx in which almost 2.5m people sought asylum in the EU.
Mrs Merkel’s government kept Germany’s borders open in 2015 and allowed in more than 1m migrants. At the time, the German chancellor championed the principle that all countries should show “solidarity” by hosting at least some refugees in a crisis, despite the bitter divisions the idea of compulsory relocation has stoked across Europe.
The new paper specifies that “derogations” from migrant quotas would be time limited exceptions that would depend on sufficient participation from other countries.
Germany is also seeking to ensure its contributions to the next long-term EU budget — which will rise to around 25 per cent of the total in the 2021-2027 period — are matched by “burden sharing” measures on migration.
EU diplomats say Germany’s ambassador in Brussels has stressed that solidarity “must be a two-way street” and highlighted that the biggest beneficiaries of the EU budget are the central and eastern Europe countries that are the most reluctant to support common measures to cope with migration.
But many diplomats and analysts maintain that the Franco-German plan is unlikely to resolve the EU’s internal conflict on migration, which has remained intense despite a steep fall in Mediterranean migrant arrival numbers since 2016.
Italy and other southern European countries are likely to be uncomfortable with a proposal to drop compulsory relocation. they will also be uneasy with other aspects of the Franco-German plan, which puts significant responsibility for migrants on the EU states where they first arrive.
The European Commission has tried to salvage the asylum reform package by splitting off less contentious elements in the hope leaders will agree them at the summit. But many diplomats are sceptical this will work.