Why the federal government should stop the GEAS reform

Bernd Kasparek
Cultural anthropologist Bernd Kasparek of the Berlin Institute for Empirical Integration and Migration Research is a board member of the research association bordermonitoring.eu and a member of the Council for Migration.

On June 8 and 9, the interior ministers of the EU member states will meet in the Council of the European Union in Luxembourg to agree on a negotiating position regarding the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The traffic light coalition of the SPD, the Greens and the FDP wants to go along with large parts of the proposals presented by the Commission, thus clearing the way for unworkable tightening measures contrary to human rights. However, we are convinced that the federal government would be better off stopping the reform.

Because the Commission’s proposals are not suitable for ending the crisis of migration policy in Europe. Rather, the new proposals will only further fuel the demands of right-wing populist and far-right parties and governments for a de facto abolition of refugee protection. These form the actual core of the current migration policy crisis and the long-lasting deadlock in the European asylum system.

European unity is at stake

Research on the measures of the reform package already implemented in pilot projects clearly shows: Neither can they be implemented in a way that complies with human rights, nor are they suitable to meet the justified demands of EU member states close to the border for real European solidarity. On the contrary, it is to be expected that incentives will be created for states at the external borders to carry out even more illegal pushbacks or to disregard European law.

In doing so, the proposals put nothing less than the future of European unity at risk. Obviously, a common and sustainable migration policy for Europe is a more pressing issue than ever. Drafting and advancing such a policy should be the goal of this federal government. This is also what the SPD, FDP and Greens had agreed on in their coalition agreement.

However, a policy that only aims to stop so-called secondary migration at the expense of member states close to the border unleashes centrifugal forces that endanger the Schengen area as an area of free travel and thus also threaten a central achievement of the European project.

Border procedures thwart refugee protection

This can be seen particularly clearly in the proposal to introduce border procedures. They are the core of the reform package. Asylum seekers from countries with a low recognition rate, but potentially also those who fled to Europe through a so-called safe third country, are to enter a border procedure.

These procedures are not full-fledged asylum procedures. Rather, they are merely an accelerated preliminary examination of whether the person concerned is entitled to an asylum procedure at all, or whether he or she should be deported back to a state outside the EU. The central objective of the international system of refugee protection – the substantive examination and granting of protection to persons seeking protection – is thwarted by border procedures.

Since it can be assumed that persons seeking protection will try to evade this procedure, the border procedure is to take place in the context of detention lasting up to twelve weeks. However, a negative preliminary examination does not lead to direct deportation – this would be unlawful – but to a return procedure, which can take another twelve weeks.

A European solidarity mechanism is missing

However, even if the right to file an asylum application, which clearly exists under international and European law, is granted with a substantive examination, those persons will still have to go through the procedure in the country of first entry, i.e. in the member states close to the border. The basic problem of the “Dublin system” remains, namely that mainly the countries of first entry are responsible for receiving the persons concerned and for carrying out the procedure and the further stay of the person. Thus, there is de facto no incentive for states such as Greece, Italy or Spain to conduct a substantive asylum procedure.

This is the consequence of the lack of an actual European solidarity mechanism for the reception and distribution of protection seekers or persons entitled to protection. Contrary to the claims made by parts of the “traffic light” government, a binding distribution of protection seekers is currently not under discussion.

Thus, there is ultimately no incentive to carry out a border procedure at all. It is thus to be feared that the member states close to the border will continue to make use of the practice of illegal rejection, “wave through” persons unregistered or accommodate them in extremely precarious conditions. These are the current abuses that will be exacerbated by the proposals. In no way will the proposed reform end the “suffering at the external borders” as envisioned by the traffic light coalition agreement.

Shaping a new start for European asylum policy

We suggest stopping the reform now and setting a new policy-making process in motion instead. This would enable the German government to fulfill its self-imposed task from the coalition agreement and “move forward on the path to a common functioning EU asylum system with a coalition of receptive member states and actively contribute to other EU states taking on more responsibility and complying with EU law.”

On the basis of a fact-based, comprehensive evaluation of the current situation at the external borders and of the Dublin procedure, and based on the many scientific findings that can explain why the Europeanization of the asylum system has failed, a new start could then be made in European asylum policy. Thus, an asylum system for Europe could be designed which is in the sense of refugee protection, which can organize real European solidarity and can be implemented. At the same time, this would send a powerful signal against the decades-long mobilizations of right-wing populism, which are directed equally against Europe and against migration. *with Constantin Hruschka, Marei Pelzer, Maximilian Pichl and Vassilis S. Tsianos


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