Following tough negotiations and years of bitter struggle, we have reached agreement in the Council of the European Union on the principles of a new Common European Asylum System. Aiming to ensure that we never again have a situation at the EU’s external borders like in Moria and to prevent Europe from falling apart, this decision was many years overdue. It creates a perspective that can end the unspeakable suffering at the external borders of the EU.
Today’s agreement means that, for the first time, all refugees will be registered and that there will be a long-term, binding solution for a solidarity and distribution mechanism. This will mean a tangible lessening of the burden on the external border states, and refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan will at last be distributed more equally to other member states, something only a very few member states have been ready to accept up till now.
The compromise is by no means an easy one. In all honesty, it has to be said that if the German Government alone had been deciding on the reform, then it would look quite different. But honesty also compels us to say that anyone who finds this compromise unacceptable is in fact accepting that in future there will be no distribution of refugees, that families and children from Syria or Afghanistan fleeing from war, torture and the most serious human rights violations will be stuck at the external border forever, with no prospects. If Germany had rejected the reform, or abstained, it would have meant more suffering, not less.
The bitter part of the compromise is the procedures at the external border for people from countries with low rates of recognition. Without these border procedures, however, no-one apart from Germany would have taken part in the distribution mechanism. Together with the Commission, the German Government ensured that the border procedures apply only to a small proportion of refugees – namely those who have very little hope of their asylum application being approved. The majority of refugees arriving at the external border – Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis – will not face these procedures. And we fought hard to ensure that children and their families are excepted – with little support, I regret to say. It is good that unaccompanied minors will not be subjected to these procedures at the border. It is not good that there is no blanket exception for families. But special protective rules do apply, in particular under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
If Germany had today voted against the compromise, alongside Hungary and Poland, among others, a common European asylum policy based on the principle of solidarity would have been off the table for years. Instead, all those who already want to build up national walls in Europe again would have had a free pass. This compromise was necessary, also in order to preserve our Europe as a space with no internal border controls.