After years of wrangling over EU asylum and migration policy, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. The interior ministers agree on several projects. But asylum organizations are already criticizing.

After years of deadlock, EU interior ministers have made progress on reforming EU asylum and migration policies.

“It was an extremely successful meeting of interior ministers,” said EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson in Luxembourg. The EU interior ministers agreed in principle on two legislative proposals intended to strengthen the protection of Europe’s external borders. In addition, a mechanism to support the Mediterranean countries in dealing with asylum seekers is to be set up.

Details have yet to be worked out

“Today we were able to make important progress in migration policy across Europe,” said Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD). A “vast majority” of member states supported the project. However, the details have yet to be worked out. The French presidency of EU states is aiming for a final deal by the end of his term at the end of the month.

Specifically, it is about a new procedure at the EU’s external borders to identify people seeking protection and a reform of the Eurodac database for taking fingerprints. Ultimately, it should be possible to decide at the border who has no prospect of protection status. The EU states still have to negotiate with the European Parliament about both projects.

Germany ready to accept people

Participation in the planned solidarity mechanism, which is intended to relieve the Mediterranean countries of Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Malta and Spain, would be voluntary. The EU states could either accept those seeking protection from the Mediterranean countries or help them in other ways – for example with money or benefits in kind. Faeser estimated that around twelve countries would take in refugees, others would contribute financially. Germany is ready to take in people – but the minister did not give a specific number. Two or three countries had commented negatively on the initiative.

The mechanism is to be integrated into the existing solidarity platform that was created after the start of the war in Ukraine and will initially be limited to one year. The aim is to distribute at least 10,000 people during this time. Faeser said the exact number is still being worked out. The EU Commission and the French Council Presidency have announced a meeting on this in the coming days.

New rules for temporary border controls

The ministers also agreed on new rules for temporary border controls within the Schengen area. The topic is controversial, since people in the Schengen area should actually be able to move freely to a large extent. Now EU states that want to carry out border controls in the longer term must better justify these to the EU Commission, among other things, as a communication shows. You also have to set a precise timeframe and the EU Commission can then make recommendations on this.

The Schengen area, which includes 26 European countries and 420 million inhabitants, is intended to guarantee unrestricted movement of people in Europe. However, he came under pressure due to terrorist attacks and also during the corona pandemic. Countries like Germany, France and Austria have been reporting temporary border controls to the EU Commission for years, citing illegal migration or the threat of terrorism. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in April that states may only extend such controls in the event of “a new serious threat to their public order or their internal security”.

The Schengen agreement also includes minimum standards for travel restrictions in the event of health emergencies and measures against the instrumentalization of migrants at the external border. The background is on the one hand the corona pandemic and on the other hand allegations against Belarus of intentionally sending migrants from non-European countries to the EU border last summer.

Uniform rules on DNA and fingerprints

In addition, the domestic politicians agreed on uniform rules for the exchange of information between the police authorities of the countries and easier access to DNA and fingerprints, for example. The EU countries must now negotiate the laws with the European Parliament.

Asylum organizations assessed the results of the meeting rather negatively. Oxfam said the voluntary solidarity mechanism legitimizes the status quo. “It allows EU countries to continue to shirk their responsibilities towards refugees and leaves countries on the EU’s borders to deal with refugee aid,” Oxfam’s Stephanie Pope said.

The EU states have been arguing for years about the reform of the common asylum and migration policy. The main sticking point is the distribution of those seeking protection among the member states.