The European Union’s common asylum system is nearing completion after negotiators from the main institutions reached a political agreement on the last remaining pieces of draft legislation. The agreement will be put to member states’ ambassadors to the EU today (27 March); a vote in the European Parliament’s lead committee on the issue, on civil liberties, is expected before the end of April.
Ireland, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers, hopes to complete legislative work on the system before it hands over to Lithuania on 1 July. The member states had set themselves the goal of having the system in place on 1 January 2013.
The compromise on the asylum procedures directive and on the Eurodac regulation was reached in negotiations on Thursday (21 March).
Talks on the Eurodac regulation, which sets the rules for the EU’s fingerprint database of asylum applicants, focused on the conditions under which law-enforcement authorities should be given access to biometric data.
The agreement now allows such access for up to three years after an application has been submitted. Nadja Hirsch, the asylum spokeswoman of the German Liberals in the Parliament, criticised the three-year period as a “massive limitation of the rights of recognised refugees”.
In the case of the procedures directive, the negotiations centred on special provisions for victims of torture and unaccompanied minors. MEPs wanted to ensure that these two groups would have robust guarantees that their applications would be approved, while member states sought to preserve their discretionary powers. The compromise foresees special procedures for the two groups – but with weaker safeguards than those sought by MEPs.
The new directive is supposed to streamline the procedures for granting or lifting refugee status across the EU’s member states. If endorsed by the Council of Ministers and the Parliament, the two pieces of legislation will complete the common asylum system. Other elements, for example new rules on reception conditions for asylum-seekers and common standards for qualifying as a refugee, had been agreed previously.
Syrians for the first time make up the second-largest group of asylum-seekers in the EU, behind Afghan citizens, according to figures for 2012 released by the European Commission’s statistics office, Eurostat, on Friday (22 March).
In all, 332,000 individuals applied for asylum in the EU. The 23,510 Syrians made up 7% of the total, narrowly ahead of citizens of Russia, Pakistan and Serbia.
Germany registered the highest number of applicants, with 77,500, followed by France (60,600), Sweden (43,900), the UK (28,200) and Belgium (28,100).
Together, these five member states accepted more than 70% of all asylum applications made in the EU last year.
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