Majority Vote on Quota System on the Horizon

  • Tomáš Jungwirth
  • 15.1.2018 12:21

Bulgaria is assuming the presidency at a time of an effective institutional crisis within the Union and after Estonia stated it has tried everything on asylum reform. In the end, the Visegrad Four could get outvoted again.

Migration policy has become the centrepiece of every European Council meeting. Yet, despite occasional optimistic statements by the European Commission, we have barely moved towards reforming the pillars of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) in the past two years. And the incoming Bulgarian presidency arrives at a time when the Union’s central institutions are more divided than ever on this issue.

The Maltese presidency in the first half of 2017 ambitiously added specific steps for the CEAS reform to its priorities but failed. The following Estonian presidency learned from this and rather chose to only mention migration in general terms. However, towards the end of its mandate, Estonia came up with a proposal which was noticeably similar to the concept of „flexible“ or „effective“ solidarity proposed by the Visegrad countries during Slovakia’s presidency in September 2016. According to the Estonian proposal, the key role in evaluating the severity of the migration crisis would be assumed by the European Commission but refugees could only be relocated if the accepting country is willing to cooperate.


Bulgaria is assuming the presidency at a time of an effective institutional crisis within the Union and after Estonia stated it has tried everything on CEAS reform.


Rather surprisingly, this position, which effectively rejected any kind of a fixed refugee relocation system within the EU, was backed by European Council president Donald Tusk who described the relocation quota system as „highly controversial“ and „ineffective“. This statement was then categorically denied by Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos who said Tusk’s comments were „unacceptable“ and „denied and ignored all the work done in the past three years“ (by the way, at the same time the Commission announced it will sue the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland for not fulfilling their temporary quota requirements, the lawsuit was filed on 4 January). The Commission was also supported by the European Parliament which submitted its own proposal for reforming the Dublin system, which would include an automatic redistribution mechanism based on GDP and population as opposed to the current mechanism where the applicants’ first entry state takes responsibility.


Therefore, Bulgaria is assuming the presidency at a time of an effective institutional crisis within the Union and after Estonia stated it has tried everything on CEAS reform and questioned the possibility of coming up with anything new. So what could the following six months bring in migration policy?

Progress where it’s not needed
Firstly, there will be a continuing emphasis on its external dimension. The Union will continue in unison in its efforts to disrupt people-smuggling networks (even at the cost of more deaths at sea or working together with questionable actors, ranging from the Libyan coast guard to different non-state armed groups), increase the number of successful returns (even at the cost of violating existing legal obligations on asylum), and enticing African countries to cooperate on migration control (even at the cost of moving finances intended for development into more repressive measures).

As for the internal dimension of migration policy, there are other, less controversial, pieces of the complicated CEAS reform still in play. But we cannot expect fundamental progress on the proposal of a regulation supposed to replace the current procedural directive nor on the proposal supposed to replace the qualification directive. This means that any actual unification of asylum procedures between the member states is not on the agenda. The transformation of the European Asylum Support Office into a full-fledged agency is the most promising development and the issue of adopting new regulations on the EURODAC database of the asylum seekers’ biometric data, which would extend the number of people whose data is collected, could also progress. In short: more harmonisation in areas, where it does not bother anyone.

Visegrad countries could experience a déjà vu from 2015.


Yet, the will to continue postponing the final vote on the Dublin system reform is also apparently getting exhausted. Even though it cannot be ruled out that no vote will take place and the Dublin system will stay how we know it for several more years, the Commission claims it plans to initiate the vote in June should there be no consensus. The Visegrad Four countries could, therefore, experience a déjà vu and be outvoted by a qualified majority just like in the case of the temporary relocation mechanism in September 2015. Hundreds of hours spent negotiating, thousands of statements in the media or the enormous political capital invested into the fight against quotas could very likely yield zero impact whatsoever. The question remains whether Visegrad politicians chose the correct battle to fight.

The author is an analyst for the Asociation for International Affairs and a Policy Officer at the Consortium of Migrants Assisting Organizations.

About author: Tomáš Jungwirth


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