Agreement on the two main pillars of asylum and immigration reform was reached on the evening of June 8, after a difficult and long negotiation at the EU Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg.

The Council reached agreement on its negotiating position on the Asylum Procedure Regulation and the Asylum and Migration Management Regulation. This position will form the basis of the Council’s negotiations with the European Parliament, with a view to approving the reform before the June 2024 European elections.

Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson welcomed the “historic agreement”, which demonstrates that there is trust and a spirit of cooperation and solidarity between EU countries. The President of the Council, Sweden’s Minister for Migration, Maria Malmer Stenergaard, expressed her satisfaction, saying: “No member state can face the challenges of migration alone, and the frontline countries need our solidarity.”

The agreement was reached around eight in the evening, with an enhanced majority. According to the Swedish presidency, only two countries voted against (Poland and Hungary), while Bulgaria, Malta, Lithuania and Slovakia abstained.

It is noted that the agreement in question is only an “important” step towards the adoption of the Pact on Migration and Asylum, tabled by the Commission in September 2020 and which consists of 11 pieces of legislation.

Specifically, the agreement of the Council’s negotiating position includes the following:

Streamlining the asylum process

The Asylum Procedure Regulation establishes a common EU-wide procedure that Member States must follow when people apply for international protection. Mandatory border procedures are introduced to quickly assess at the EU’s external borders whether applications are unfounded or inadmissible. Persons subject to the asylum procedure at the border are not allowed to enter the territory of the Member State.

The border procedure will apply when an asylum seeker applies at an external border crossing point, after arrest in connection with illegal border crossing and after disembarkation following a search and rescue operation. The procedure is mandatory for member states if the applicant poses a risk to national security or public order, has misled the authorities with false information or by concealing information, and if the applicant has a nationality with a recognition rate of less than 20%.

The total duration of the asylum and return process must not exceed 6 months.

It is noted that after difficult talks, mainly between Italy and Germany, flexibility was maintained for member states to decide which third country is considered “safe”.

Sufficient capacity

To carry out border procedures, Member States must create sufficient capacity, in terms of reception and human resources, required to examine a specified number of applications at any one time and to enforce return decisions. At EU level, this sufficient capacity is 30 000. Each Member State’s sufficient capacity will be determined based on a formula that takes into account the number of irregular border crossings and refusals of entry over a three-year period.

Amendment of the Dublin Rules

The Asylum and Migration Management Regulation (AMMR) should replace, if agreed, the current Dublin Regulation. Dublin sets rules that determine which member state is responsible for examining an asylum application. AMMR will streamline these rules and shorten the time limits. For example, the current complicated process of transferring the applicant back to the Member State responsible for their application will be replaced by a simple take-over notice.

Compulsory solidarity mechanism

To balance the current system whereby countries of first reception are responsible for the vast majority of asylum applications, a new mechanism combining mandatory solidarity with flexibility is proposed. That is, member states can choose to contribute either by hosting asylum seekers (relocation), or by financial contributions or alternative solidarity measures.

The minimum annual number for relocations from Member States of first reception to Member States less exposed to migrant arrivals is 30,000, while the minimum annual number of financial contributions is EUR 20,000 per relocation. These amounts can be increased where necessary and will also take into account situations where no need for solidarity is foreseen in a given year.

In order to compensate for a possibly insufficient number of committed relocations, the contributing Member State will take responsibility for examining an asylum application from persons who would normally be subject to transfer to the responsible Member State (beneficiary Member State). This status will become mandatory if the relocation commitments fall short of 60% of the total needs identified by the Council for the given year or do not reach the number set in the regulation (30 000).

Prevention of abuse and secondary movements

It includes measures aimed at preventing abuse by the asylum seeker and avoiding secondary movements. For example, obligations are set for asylum seekers to apply in the Member States of first entry or legal residence. Secondary movements are discouraged by limiting the possibilities of suspension or shifting of responsibility between Member States and thus reducing the possibilities of the applicant to choose the Member State in which to apply for asylum.

The Member State of first entry will be responsible for the asylum application for a period of two years.

If a Member State rejects an applicant in the border procedure, its responsibility for that person will expire after 15 months (if the application is renewed).