Eight EU governments have demanded radical reform of the bloc’s asylum system and tougher curbs on “irregular migration” ahead of this week’s summit in Brussels which will largely focus on migration.
The demands are contained in a letter to the European Commission and European Council chiefs, Ursula Von der Leyen and Charles Michel, from the governments of Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Greece, Malta, and Austria.
Similar points were touched upon by von der Leyen in a letter sent to member states on 26 January, focusing on the fight against migration traffickers through increased migrant returns, agreements with third countries, and the speeding up of negotiations on the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum.
The letter of the eight member states, seen by EURACTIV, said that it was time “to create an EU harmonised asylum framework to manage all relevant migratory routes”.
It also called for tougher and more “effective border control”, together with a stronger policy on repatriations and agreements with third countries.
The current lack of returns is a “pull factor” for irregular migration, the signatories warned.
Migration again ranks high again on the EU agenda following a sharp increase of irregular migrants crossing EU borders.
As EURACTIV reported, according to the latest data from the EU borders and coast guard agency Frontex, around 330,000 irregular border crossings were reported at the EU’s external border in 2022, “an increase of 64% from the previous year”.
The debate on whether and how to finance the construction of border fences with EU funds has re-emerged and is likely to be a controversial point at the summit, particularly as the Commission has already voiced its opposition.
At the same time, some EU countries such as Austria and the Netherlands, and the conservative groups in the European Parliament are taking a strong line in favour of it.
“We want to support Bulgaria in protecting the border even more efficiently. Bulgaria cannot manage even more controls on its own,” Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said during a state visit to Bulgaria in January. According to him, Bulgaria should receive at least €2 billion in assistance to build – among other things – a fence at its border with Turkey.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned at the end of January that the EU’s passport-free Schengen area “will not survive” unless the EU goes back to the Dublin rules, which determine which EU country is responsible for processing asylum applications.
The EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, has stated that she wants to find a “pragmatic” solution on border fences, which Nehammer last week described as “a step in the right direction”.
The President of the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, posted on Twitter on Tuesday that “fences, in exceptional cases, are not taboo for us. We must restore order at Europe’s external borders. As seen in Spain, Greece & Bulgaria, technical measures & law enforcement can be necessary”.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox/Zoran Radosavljevic]