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European asylum policy the main topic of the ministerial meeting in Sofia

On 25 January 2018, an informal meeting of Justice and Home Affairs Council took place in Sofia, Bulgaria. It was attended by State Secretary Andrej Špenga.

Interior ministers dedicated a long discussion to the European asylum policy. As regards the reform of the Common European Asylum System in line with the conclusions of the European Council meeting in December, the Bulgarian presidency undertook to reach an agreement on proposals for legislative acts in the first half of this year. Slovenia supports an early adoption of the legislative proposals, so that the EU will be able to achieve gradually long-term and lasting results. As a solution to the standstill in reforming the Common European Asylum System, Slovenia has already suggested the elimination of the crisis mechanism from the Dublin Regulation proposal, which should be a separate legislative act complementing the Common European Asylum System and based on the Temporary Protection Directive, which should also be upgraded. Špenga explained Slovenia’s proposal as follows: "In negotiating on the Dublin Regulation mechanism, too strong emphasis has been placed on allocations and quotas, but too little on issues such as the status, rights and standards of care, which are, in case of a migration crisis we faced in 2015 and 2016, equally important. We therefore suggest that the Dublin Regulation should continue to regulate operations in circumstances of normal and increased pressure, while crisis situations should be regulated through an external mechanism, the one of temporary protection." Špenga suggested that this mechanism be launched by a Council decision on a proposal from the Commission in the event of a mass arrival. The decision should specify the countries (or geographic areas) whose citizens are subject to such an arrangement (in this case protection is limited to persons who truly need it), as well as the number of persons to be received by individual Member States (based on case-by-case assessment of Member States' capacities under criteria determined in advance). He also underlined that protection should be granted only for a certain period of time (one year, which might be prolonged if the situation does not improve), and that the procedure should be rapid. "Temporary protection should be geographically limited and cannot provide solutions to all nationalities, which is logical in our opinion, since mass arrivals can only be triggered by extraordinary events, which are always geographically limited," summarized the State Secretary. 


The ministers supported the acceleration of negotiations on the legislative package, but the majority of them stressed the need for producing quality solutions. Most of them see the Dublin Regulation as a crucial legislative act, since it is necessary to return to the normal functioning of the Dublin system. However, there is still a considerable divergence of views in terms of potential solutions. The ministers of the States that are or can be exposed to a large influx of migrants and refugees are in favour of a binding allocation mechanism in the Dublin Regulation, while others, especially the members of the Visegràd Group, are more reserved or opposed to such a proposal. They see solidarity as contributing as far as one’s resources permit, and feel different kinds of contributions should be taken into account. 


State Secretary Špenga urged the Bulgarian presidency to consider more potential solutions, not only one. He emphasized that it is our responsibility not to provide solutions by voting others down, as this would only widen the gaps in the EU. By way of conclusion, the chairman promised the Presidency would consider the views expressed and examine the proposals, and asked for support in reaching an agreement in the first six months of 2018. 


Further, the interior ministers discussed an integrated border management, focusing on the cooperation between the EU and third countries of origin. Member States are currently dealing especially with consequences and not enough with solving the causes of migration. The latter is a process that takes time and a lot of resources, whereas the results are not visible in a short term. Nevertheless, this is the only effective and lasting solution. In the first place, it is necessary to enhance cooperation with key countries of origin and transit, as they pose the biggest risk in terms of illegal migration. "It is important to seek common, European solutions benefiting all of us, although it is often tempting and easier to solve our own problems only. My country, therefore, strives for readmission agreements at the EU level," emphasized Špenga. Slovenia also supports mutual recognition of return decisions and their implementation on behalf of other Member States, which would finally result in the removal of foreigners from the EU territory and, at the same time, limit their return to other Member States. 


At lunch, the participants paid most attention to global migration aspects in connection with the preparation of global UN agreements concerning regulated migration and refugees. The State Secretary believes that such a global agreement should be a foundation for further migration policy planning at a global level, as well as a reference document important for future migration developments. It should take into consideration that migration is a positive global phenomenon and that a common goal should be to establish safe, regulated and legal migration at the global level. "The document should include provisions on the protection of fundamental rights for all people, on responsibility sharing, solidarity, cooperation between countries, investments in eliminating the root causes of illegal migration, and on responsible border management including return, readmission and sustainable integration", said Špenga. 


On the sidelines of the meeting, State Secretary Špenga met the new Austrian Interior Minister, Herbert Kickl. They underlined the good cooperation between the Slovenian and Austrian police at the operational level and confirmed their commitment to promote political dialogue between the interior ministers concerning unresolved issues, especially the control at the Slovenia–Austria border.