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EU proposes fines for countries refusing to take asylum seekers - but will it work?

Migrants gather in the courtyard as they wait to be evacutated from the Lycee Jean Quarre, an empty secondary school occuiped by hundred of migrants and asylum seekers in the 19th district in Paris, France, October 23, 2015.
Migrants gather in the courtyard as they wait to be evacutated from the Lycee Jean Quarre, an empty secondary school occuiped by hundred of migrants and asylum seekers in the 19th district in Paris, France, October 23, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

The European Union on Wednesday gave conditional backing to visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and unveiled an overhaul of its asylum system. Under the new plan member states that refuse to take a quota of refugees will be fined.

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Brussels wants to reform an asylum system that has proved unable to cope with the more than 1.25 million refugees who have arrived since the start of 2015.

Under the "Dublin rules", migrants seeking asylum must lodge their application in the country where they first arrive and should be returned there if they try to move elsewhere in the bloc.

That means Greece and Italy, the main ports of entry to Europe, get most of the refugees.

The aim of the Commission is to more fairly share responsibility for migrants arriving in Europe. That is why it is proposing a special mechanism whereby refugees and migrants could be relocated to other countries if a crisis is declared, for example in Greece.

Each country would be given a threshold of asylum seekers. If the actual number of arrivals reaches 150 percent of the country’s set figure, “an automatic corrective allocation mechanism would be triggered”

“What is good in the proposal, is that it’s a realistic take on the situation, which is that at the moment some member states are really struggling under the burden of refugees,” says Susi Dennison, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“What is potentially problematic is the mechanism not kicking in on a voluntary basis. I think that following the non-implementation of the relocation agreement last autumn, it’s pretty clear that states simply aren’t going to carry out instructions which they feel forced into.”

Hefty fines proposed

Under the new plan, states that decline to take their quota would face a fine of 250,000 euros for each person refused.

A number of countries in Europe, including Poland and Hungary, have been reluctant to take in refugees.

Hence the Commission’s answer: You don’t want to welcome refugees? Pay for them instead.

“On the one hand you could say this is quite a substantial financial penalty and thus could be an incentive for the states to play along,” says Kris Pollet, a policy officer at the European Council on Refugee and Exiles. “But it seems so exaggerated that politically it is difficult to see how it can be accepted. It could be used an excuse by certain states to refuse the proposal from the start.”

That concerns is shared by Susi Dennison.

“The problem is that it is going to create a lot of bad feelings among member states, such as Austria and other who are not cooperating with the rest of the EU on the asylum measures," she comments.

Hungary, Poland slam plan

Sure enough, Hungary and Poland slammed the plan shortly after its announcement, with Budapest calling it "blackmail" and Warsaw saying it sounded like an April fool’s joke.

The Commission is also proposing the creation of a new European Union agency for asylum. The goal here is to make sure decisions are enforced throughout Europe and that information about asylum seekers are shared across the member states.

“It is a further reform of the mandate of the already-existing European Asylum Office,” says Kris Pollet. “It changes the name, it expands the resources of the agency but it doesn’t look like it’s fundamentally changing the competences of the agency.”

Now the question is whether or not the EU parliament and the member states will accept the plan.

One thing might help: since the EU-Turkey deal came into force on 20 March, the number of arrivals in Greece has dropped dramatically.

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