Major reform of EU asylum laws debated by MEPs


The EU's Home Affairs Commissioner has welcomed the broad support of MEPs for a package of laws to establish a Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

Debating the asylum package, which includes minimum standards of detention for asylum seekers and better access to the labour market, Cecilia Malmström said it would create "a system we can truly be proud of and that we can call a true European asylum system".

One of the negotiators on the package, Spanish social democrat Antonio Masip Hidalgo said that "the EU should be a land of asylum, protecting people fleeing persecution. Europe should not be a police state."

However British Conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope said he could not support the new rules, arguing that asylum policies should be based on "practical assistance, not ideology".

He added that EU government should not be "condemned for tackling abuses of the asylum system".

The package is made up of four pieces of legislation:

  • Harmonised minimum standards for asylum seekers, including better detention conditions, easier access to the labour market and a faster assessment of medical and psychological needs.
  • The so-called "Dublin II" regulation which governs which member state is responsible for examining a request for asylum, to prevent asylum seekers being sent from one country to another without any country taking responsibility. The responsible country would normally be the state through which the asylum seeker first entered the EU, or the country responsible for their entry into the EU. The update to the regulation guarantees the right to an interview for each asylum seeker to help determine which country is responsible for their application. Asylum seekers will also be given more rights to appeal against a decision to be transferred to another member state, and be allowed to remain in the country they are residing pending the outcome of any appeal.
  • A new directive to give national police forces and Europol access to asylum seekers' fingerprints to help fight terrorism and serious crime. Fingerprints of all asylum seekers over the age of 14 are stored by Eurodac. At committee stage, MEPs passed amendments to insert stronger data protection provisions to ensure that police access is only granted "if there is an over-riding public security concern". MEPs also want to block any transfer of fingerprint data to non-EU countries or international organisations.
  • The harmonisation of national laws on the granting of international protection to asylum seekers. The new rules would guarantee that asylum seekers can obtain legal information and assistance free of charge. There will also be a six month deadline for countries to decide on asylum applications, although decisions on whether to return an asylum seeker to their country of origin may be postponed if there are "temporarily uncertain situations", such as in Syria.

MEPs formally passed the various elements of the asylum package during the daily voting session on 12 June 2013.

Useful links.

The European Parliament's disclaimer on the use of simultaneous interpretations can be found here.

Read Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work here.

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