Slovakia’s EU asylum reform proposal exposes continuing splits in bloc

Slovakia’s EU asylum reform proposal exposes continuing splits in bloc
The migrant crisis has set the CEE member states at odds with Brussels and Berlin.
By bne IntelliNews November 18, 2016

Slovak officials claimed on November 18 that its ‘effective solidarity’ proposal to reform the EU’s asylum system has been met with interest. However, that was at odds with comments from other member states ahead of a meeting of interior ministers on the topic.

The Slovak proposal reflects the stance of Central European states that have furiously rejected mandatory quotas for hosting migrants and refugees. Bratislava, which holds the rotating EU presidency until the end of the year, suggests the plan is a compromise. However, reactions suggest frontline states see the plan as little more than a continued effort to evade taking on the responsibilities of membership in the bloc.

Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak admitted that there are many different opinions on the reform in the midst of reports of a hot-tempered dinner late on November 17. However, he also claimed “understanding” amongst the delegates.

“Transitory countries, such as we are, could help with alleviating those countries that are burdened the most; and I think that this has been met with a lot of understanding,” the official stated, according to TASR.

The contrast with reactions from the likes of Germany is stark. “We are looking for compromises but at the moment they are not there,” said his German counterpart, Thomas De Maiziere, according to Reuters.

Alongside the rest of the Visegrad region, Slovakia has infuriated Brussels and frontline states such as Italy with its refusal to accept a portion of the 1.3mn migrants and refugees – many from war torn states such as Syria and Afghanistan – that arrived in the EU last year. The argument has stretched the EU. States to the west accuse Visegrad of failing to uphold the unity of the bloc; the Central European states insist they should retain sovereignty over immigration.

Bratislava, as well as Budapest, has a legal challenge to the EU’s migrant quotas lodged. The plan to redistribute 160,000 migrants and refugees was controversially passed last year by the Council of Europe, but now appears all but dead,. That leaves the bloc’s asylum system in effective limbo.

In its role as EU president, Slovakia has a responsibility to try to find a compromise to fill the vacuum. Kalinak insists the scheme for ‘effective solidarity’ is just that.

Under the short briefing of the plan seen by media, member states would be able to choose how they want to help manage asylum seeker inflows. Those opting not to accept refugees and migrants would be able to offer financial, policing or bureaucratic aid to frontline states instead.

“All member states should take part in a form or another in this collective effort,” the Slovak paper states, according to EU Observer.

However, offering a get-out from helping to host migrants is unlikely to go down well in those states carrying the heaviest loads. Germany has taken in close to 1mn asylum seekers since the start of the crisis. Sweden is another accepting hundreds of thousands. Both are said to be unimpressed with Bratislava’s proposal. A diplomat from Italy branded the plan “highly unsatisfactory”.

“Many countries have set goals that the effective solidarity, or rather the new reform of the Dublin system, should fulfil,” admitted Kalinak. “The thing is that every country should provide adequate assistance to express solidarity.” 

The reaction of EU interior ministers to the Slovak plan will be submitted ahead of a summit of heads of state in December.