Pittella: Parliament backs radical asylum reform, finally removing first country of entry principle

Refugee boy in tent

The European Parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee today backed a fundamental change to the EU’s asylum rules. Under the current system, in most cases, the asylum seeker would be the responsibility of the member state where they first arrived in the EU. This placed a huge burden on frontline countries. The new rules replace this first country principle with a centralised relocation system that shares responsibility for refugees in a fair and transparent way between all member states.

The S&D Group has long been calling for this change and played an instrumental role in improving the proposal originally put forward by the European Commission. The Group now urges national governments to take the steps necessary to finalise this legislation as soon as possible.

Following the vote, S&D Group president Gianni Pittella said:

“It has been clear for years that our current asylum system is not fit for purpose. It leaves countries on Europe's borders, such as Italy or Greece, to face the bulk of asylum cases alone and allows other countries to shirk their humanitarian responsibilities. This is not sustainable; we are turning a manageable situation into a crisis. Increased migration is not a temporary occurrence – demographic changes, poverty, climate change and instability in North Africa and the Middle East mean that large numbers will continue to seek a better life in Europe. As Socialists and Democrats, we want to manage this new migration reality effectively and protect the fundamental rights of both refugees and European citizens. 

“The ball is now in the Council's court and we urge them to act so that we can finalise these proposals. Our Group is clear, only a truly European asylum system is acceptable - we will not back any agreement that does not replace the first country of entry principle.”

S&D Group negotiator for the report, Elly Schlein, added:

“We need a complete departure from the current Dublin system, replacing it with a truly European one. Our Group has pushed hard to delete the first country of entry principle and replace it with a permanent and automatic mechanism of relocation in which all member states have to participate. As well as creating a centralised relocation system, we have ensured that meaningful links – such as having a family member, previous stay or an academic link in a particular country – are taken into account when asylum applications are made. This would work alongside a new procedure to fasten family reunification if an asylum seeker already has family in an EU member state. We have also significantly strengthened the guarantees and safeguards for applicants, in particular for children, ensuring they are provided with the information they need and are swiftly appointed a guardian.

“We replace the harsh sanctions originally proposed by the Commission with a mechanism of incentives to comply and disincentives for secondary movements. We also removed the Commission proposal for mandatory inadmissibility checks to be done by first member states entry, which would again place an unfair burden on front line member states and undermine the right to claim asylum. We will now push hard in the negotiations to ensure we finally have an asylum system reflecting the principles of solidarity and equal sharing of responsibilities as enshrined in the EU treaties.”