'Harder political climate' for EU asylum reforms

EU countries conceded yesterday they were a long way from breaking a two-year deadlock over reforming the bloc's asylum rules by a deadline this month.

EU countries conceded Tuesday they were a long way from breaking a two-year deadlock over reforming the bloc’s asylum rules by a deadline this month amid a “harder political climate” following right-wing election gains in Italy.

Key European Union ministers and officials meeting in Luxembourg were lukewarm or even opposed to Bulgaria’s new compromise plan on how to close an east-west rift over the reforms before a June 28-29 summit in Brussels.

“The current state of negotiations is not acceptable,” Stephan Mayer, a senior German interior ministry official, told reporters as he arrived for the talks. “We are not ready to accept it (the plan).”

Mayer, whose country is Europe’s top migrant destination, said Italy, its southern EU neighbours and eastern European countries also criticized at least parts of the plan.

Migration Minister Helene Fritzon of Sweden, a key migrant destination, said chances of a compromise may even be tougher following right-wing gains in elections in Italy and Slovenia.

“It is a harder climate, a harder political climate in Europe today,” Fritzon told reporters.

Italy’s new hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini said the reforms condemn Italy and other Mediterranean countries to continue bearing the burden of an unprecedented migration crisis for the 28-nation bloc, which peaked in 2015.

Standing in for Salvini in Luxembourg is Maurizio Massari, Italy’s envoy to the EU in Brussels.

EU leaders in December set an end-of-June deadline for an overhaul of the so-called Dublin rules to create a permanent mechanism to deal with migrants in the event of a new emergency. Under existing rules, countries where migrants first arrive are required to process asylum requests. Italy, Greece and Spain are the main entry points to Europe.

EU cooperation deals with Turkey and Libya, the main transit countries, have helped to slow, at least for now, the flow of migrants to Europe since 2015.

Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have either refused outright or resisted taking in refugees since the Commission first pushed through temporary quotas in 2015 as a way to ease the burden on frontline states Italy and Greece.
Secondary movement

Under an emergency plan, EU member countries agreed to relocate to other parts of the bloc 160,000 Syrians and other refugees from Italy and Greece within two years.

Only 34,690 people have been relocated as most people made their own way to Germany and other wealthy northern countries amid the chaotic EU response to the crisis.

According to documents, Bulgaria calls for “alleviating (the) burden from the front-line” states and “curbing secondary movements” of asylum seekers who land in one EU country and travel to another.

Eastern countries place a priority on stopping secondary movements, which caused so much chaos in recent years that countries in Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone re-established border checks.

In a nod to Rome and Athens, the Bulgarian proposals call for the compulsory relocation of asylum seekers, but only as a last resort.

At the outset of a crisis, financial and other support are supposed to kick in automatically under the plan.

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