To take a closer look at the content of the EU migration pact, the non-partisan Europa Union Deutschland (EUD) organized the online citizens' dialog "Between blockade, fundamental values and solidarity: The new EU migration pact as a solution? Stephan Mayer, Parliamentary State Secretary of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, and Prof. Dr. Daniel Thym, Deputy Chairman of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration, answered the often critical questions of the more than 100 participants. The evening was moderated by Vera Wolfskämpfer, correspondent in the ARD capital city studio.
The German presidency in bad luck
The German government has set itself an ambitious goal for the German Council Presidency: After 5 years of debate, it wants to finally conclude a new agreement that governs how Europe deals with refugees. However, the two discussants agree that this goal will probably be missed. In the next four weeks, a compromise seems unrealistic. But this is not up to the German government, they say. Some unfortunate coincidences have complicated the process: the Commission's proposal has been delayed and delayed, the Corona pandemic and the ongoing Brexit negotiations have consumed political resources. In addition, the Commission's draft was highly complex. Even experts need weeks to get through the content. Why is that?
The lines of conflict - between isolation and solidarity
The positions of the member states can be roughly divided into three groups. The Mediterranean countries of Spain, Cyprus, Malta, Greece and Italy primarily want to dissolve the Dublin mechanism, which obliges refugees to apply for asylum in the country of arrival. Instead, these countries are calling for a fairer burden-sharing among member states. The second group includes the Visegrád states (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary), which primarily oppose a mandatory distribution of refugees among all member states. A similar position is held in part by the Baltic states, Austria and the Netherlands. The third group includes countries such as Germany, Sweden and Ireland, which take a mediating position.
This tricky prospect explains why Stephan Mayer already calls the fact that no member state has so far spoken out categorically against the proposal a success. According to Professor Thym, the Commission has presented a draft that demands something from each of the three groups, but can be accepted by all. In response to criticism that the Commission was relying too much on compartmentalization, Thym said that migration was not a winning issue in many member states. If the agreement of all governments is nevertheless necessary, this automatically means that EU policy will become more restrictive.
What's in the package?
Arrivals are to be subjected to screening directly at the EU's external borders, where security and health issues will be tested. People from states with a recognition rate of less than 20 percent will be sent to a fast-track procedure. A decision on the asylum application is then to be made within 12 weeks. Professor Thym assures, however, that despite the fast-track procedure, the Commission's proposal ensures individual case treatment. Minors and vulnerable persons would be excluded from this fast-track procedure.
There is no mandatory distribution of refugees among all member states. Here, the group around the Visegrád states has prevailed. However, each member state must show "solidarity" and participate in the common task. In the future, however, they will be free to do so in which way: They can choose whether to take in refugees or support the repatriation of rejected asylum seekers*. Parliamentary State Secretary Mayer welcomes the Commission's new focus on repatriation. After all, about two thirds of the arrivals would have no chance of a positive asylum decision.
The European Commission is relying on the model of repatriation sponsorships. This means that member states specialize in organizing deportations to a specific country of origin. In concrete terms, this could mean, for example, that Germany repatriates people from Morocco who are not granted asylum from all over Europe to their country of origin. If this is not implemented after eight months, Germany would have to take in the people from Morocco.
Pragmatism at the expense of humanity?
Even though Mayer emphasizes that he would have welcomed a mandatory distribution of refugees, he sees the Commission's proposal as fundamentally positive. Mayer has little sympathy for the expressed disappointment of an audience member that the EU is betraying its humanity with this proposal. There is a right to apply for asylum, but a negative decision would have to be followed by repatriation. This is not inhumane, but the implementation of law. Not accepting repatriations would endanger the acceptance of the population in the long term.
Professor Daniel Thym, deputy chairman of the Expert Council of German Foundations for Integration and Migration, stressed that it was the implementation of the EU proposal in practice that mattered. It is crucial how the rules are realized, he said. In the past, Greek authorities in particular have had problems implementing the rules. Thym therefore calls for greater support for the EU agencies on the ground.
Sea rescue as a humanitarian obligation
The opinion among the participants of the Citizens' Dialogue is clear: 85 percent see a sea rescue program as a humanitarian obligation of the EU. Professor Thym points out that the EU has never had a real sea rescue program. There would only be a Frontex program, which was carried out on known escape routes. He put into perspective the argument of political opponents that a sea rescue program could create incentives for smugglers. There is no empirical evidence for this so far.
State Secretary Mayer emphasized that the EU has no official responsibility for sea rescue. However, it is the will of the Federal Ministry of the Interior that the EU should take more care of the distribution of people rescued from distress at sea. So far, too few countries have participated, he said. However, Mayer thinks it is doubtful whether there will be a new frontline mission. This issue is not currently on the political agenda.
Priorities in migration policy
For a majority of participants, the EU's focus should be on creating humanitarian conditions for those seeking protection. The goal of effective border control receives the least support. State Secretary Stephan Mayer considers combating the causes of flight to be particularly important. In the long term, the EU must ensure that no one is forced to flee. Professor Thym does not want to decide, because the four points would complement each other. An EU migration pact would therefore have to include them all. Migration is a challenge that can only be solved supranationally, he said. Therefore, a failure of the agreement would be the worst possibility.
What such an agreement will look like is still questionable. Negotiations on this will continue during the Portuguese EU Council presidency. The objective civil dialogue showed all participants how complex the path to a compromise will be.