A new plan for reforming the EU’s rules on asylum went down badly Tuesday, with Hungary accusing its authors of trying too hard to please Germany.
Bulgaria, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, unveiled its new plan — seen by POLITICO — at a meeting of EU ambassadors, but Budapest was bitterly opposed.
Bulgaria’s plan was an attempt to bridge the gap between frontline states such as Italy and Greece, which say current EU rules are unfair because they place too great a burden on the country in which asylum seekers arrive in Europe, and Eastern European countries — notably Hungary and Poland — which refuse to take part in any system that makes relocating refugees mandatory.
The Bulgarians suggested the country of entrance into the EU should have “responsibility” for asylum seekers for “5 years after the final decision [on their claim to remain].” That’s down from 10 years in an earlier proposal but higher than the two years Italy and others were asking for.
During discussions on the 10-year proposal, “a significant group of member states made it very clear that this period was too long and could not be the basis for an overall compromise, whereas others strongly supported this period,” the new draft says. EU diplomats said use of the words “final decision” were also open to interpretation as asylum legislation varies across the bloc.
In the Bulgarian plan, relocation would be mandatory only in very exceptional circumstances.
When the Bulgarian ambassador presented the new proposal, “he stressed how much this work was done taking into consideration the lines of all member states … but the Hungarians replied that this work represents the interest of just one member state” — Germany — said one EU diplomat.
Two other diplomats confirmed the exchange took place.
“It was a civilized and diplomatic exchange … and the Hungarians didn’t mention explicitly Germany, but it’s clear that … basically they were accusing them of being slaves to Berlin,” said one of the diplomats.
Hungarian diplomats declined to comment on the meeting but officials from other countries said the Bulgarians had tried their best to find a solution. In the Bulgarian plan, relocation would be mandatory only in very exceptional circumstances and countries could help out in different ways, including through resettlement (which means taking in refugees from outside the bloc, as opposed to relocation, which means taking them in from other EU members).
The fight shows how difficult it will be for EU leaders to reach consensus at a summit in Brussels next month on asylum reform.
That could be further complicated by a potential 5Star Movement-League government in Italy.
“We would need Italy on board but we don’t know which Italy we’ll have,” said a Northern European diplomat.
If no unanimity can be reached on the plans, it’s likely that a deal on migration would be reached with a majority vote, which risks inflaming the east-west divide.