Germany´s EU council presidency – just a Corona-presidency?
Germany stands for reforming EU migration and asylum policy
The German presidency of the Council of the European Union from the 1st of July to the 31st of December seems to be overshadowedby the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, which affects every corner of daily political and social life. The question comes to mind whether the presidency will focus solely on resolving the crisis, or if Germany can use its presidency to implement the rightsteps needed in urging matters regarding the European Union. The unpredictable nature of the crisis and its outcome make it difficult to plan ahead on pressing issues, such as the ongoing migration to Europe. Refugees at the borders of Europe as well as in European member states are heavily affected by the Corona pandemic. The current situation gives the European Union and the rest of the world the opportunity to rethink existing structures, which have not proven to be stable in times of crisis. Germany may be able to use this momentum and focus on the restructuring of the European migration mechanism.
Germany´s program regarding migration and asylum policy is based on “European values, rule-of-law and humanitarian standards” and seeks to update migration policies through new accords and mechanisms. Firstly, Germany identifies the need of reorganization of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The restructuration should be based on the proposal of the Commission of the European Union published as early as 2016. The mechanism which should be able to deal with future migration must be fair, functioning, efficient and stable, according to the program. However, these are the only goals being set in this context, tangible concepts are missing. In the past, the provisions in place, such as the Dublin Accord, have been heavily discussed and were sometimes even neglected by member states. : Germany mentions challenges that receiving countries face and secondary migration as urgent issuesbut leaves out the precise mechanism of relocation. States with high numbers of refugeesare vulnerable to manage current migration trends. As such, insufficient migration and reception policy solutions lead to the overcrowding of refugee camps and precarious living conditions. The matter of migration is still a divisive topic, not only on member-state-level, but on national level as well. As such, Germany´s program intends to strengthen and reorganize responsibility and solidarity. With the topic of solidarity and burden-sharing on the table, especially in these times of crisis, Germany has the momentum and possibility to take over the leading role in negotiations between the diverging interests.
A second topic of Germany´s presidency program is the mechanism of managing migration trends. This process is divided into two pillars and introduces a new method of determining the access regulation to asylum procedures. According to the program, procedures related to examination of applications for international protection should be moved beyond the EU external borders in aim to slim down the procedures inside the EU. The second pillar is the already existing procedure for asylum seekers in the country of arrival. However, it is undecided who and in which capacity these interviews will take place. Another important question arises on the topic of depth of these interviews, ensuring the reliability of the procedure and respecting the right to asylum procedure, when the amount of people seeking asylum extends the capacities of one outpost at the EU external borders. As mentioned before, receiving states often lack the logistics of handling migration and as such, are unable to ensure a reliable procedure outside the borders. Looking at the logistics, camps outside the EU must be erected or extendedto provide shelter and food while asylum seekers wait for their interviews. The idea of pre-checks follows anEU security approach towards migration: seeking minimization of the scale of forced migration to the EU and at the same time, disburdening and strengthening the capacities of states with external borders. The effect this change in procedure will have on asylum seekers and their living conditions, remains uncertain.
Germany also identifies the need of restructuring resettlement capacities and developing new mechanisms for voluntary repatriation. Here, there program states that the international cooperation between states of origin and the European Union must be coordinated and actively sought after. What is being emphasized is that the rights of refugees must be of highest regard and that every procedure must be compliant with the Charter of Human Rights. A new accord about repatriation should represent the legal basis on which re-integration and return of people without the possibility for asylum in the EU will be coordinated. In what capacity repatriation will take place, is not mentioned in the program. However, people voluntarily leaving the EU after the application for asylum has been rejected or whose application has not yet been finalized shouldBe assured to benefit of their rights to return and reintegration assistance into their states of origin.
Cooperation and partnership are main pillars, which are mentioned throughout the program. In the context of migration and asylum policy, cooperation is what Germany identifies as the factor for improvement of conditions under COVID-19 for refugees and asylum seekers. States of origin, transit states and receiving states should stay in contact and be stabilized, causes of displacement and irregular migration should be mitigated. Germany declared the desire to implement a mechanism which analyzes the migration situation to lead to an early warning system. International burden-sharing and redistribution of responsibility between states of origin, transit and receiving states should facilitate long-lasting solutions for refugees, asylum seekers and returnees. What is not being mentioned is the current situation many asylum seekers are living in. While the program mentions international cooperation and an early warning system, refugees right now suffer, as Germany also identifies, “particularly severely”. A concept on how to improve living situations is missing.
Another aspect being mentioned in Germany´s program for the presidency of the Council of the European Union is the tackling of irregular migration and combatting of human smuggling. A rapid implementation of the Frontex mandate should be vital on this end. The reason behind this is to ensure the security within the Schengen Area. Here the program includes some concerns mentioned by individuals as well as state actors that the EU external borders should be reinforced. Furthermore, the legal basis of immigration must be reformed. Especially when it comes to skilled workers, Germany identifies the need for a framework that uses opportunities and gives access to a fast-paced immigration to tackle the shortage of skilled workers.
The German program for the Council presidency tries to approach the divisive topic of migration through a middle course with a focus on regulation of migration streams. On the one hand, Germany stands for outsourcing asylum procedures outside the EU. On the other hand, redistribution and improved living situation for refugees should be improved through solidarity, burden-sharing and international cooperation. The most important task, which is intentionally being kept short in the program, will be to broker a deal for a renewed Dublin accord. As some countries vehemently refuse to take part in the redistribution of asylum seekers, a solution might be difficult to find. Some ideas involve financial compensation if a country does not accept a certain number of refugees.
Questions arise where the united and solidary European Union mentioned in the program ends. For many countries, immigration is not only a disputed topic on European level, but national level as well. However, Germany takes an important role as a broker between parties: it has one of the highest numbers of asylum applicants and, at the same time, has a political weight through the largest economy in Europe (measured by Nominal GDP). If Germany can use its political power to negotiate a new deal, the situation could especially improve for receiving countries as well as the living situation for asylum applicants. Nevertheless, to reach this new accord, Germany must give some concessions to state actors with opposing views towards migration, such as reinforcement of the borders and the strengthening of Frontex.
Auswärtiges Amt (2020): Together for Europe´s recovery. Programme for Germany´s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Berlin, Auswärtiges Amt.