The European Union is looking into a fundamental reform of its migration policies, which have heaped pressure on some nations like Greece and Italy as over a million migrants and refugees arrived in Europe over the past year.
The EU Commission announced Wednesday it wants to amend the current principle where the first nation where a migrant arrives must process their asylum request. The policy is a central tenet of the 28-nation bloc's migration system, which has failed over the past year, EU Vice-President Frans Timmermans said.
“The current system is not sustainable,” Timmermans said.
Instead, the Commission proposes to activate a “distribution key” to spread asylum applicants around the EU. That means each EU nation would have to take a set number of asylum-seekers, according to a quota devised by the bloc.
Still, a mandatory distribution of some asylum-seekers already in Europe has already caused serious frictions among many EU nations and the Commission's proposal Wednesday to amend one rule was unlikely to change that immediately.
The Commission said in a document to EU institutions that “significant structural weaknesses and shortcomings” in the current system were rife, which placed “a disproportionate responsibility” on some nations, while others, mostly eastern European members, sought to shield their countries from having to carry much of the refugee burden.
The bloc's inefficient rules on how to handle migration along with its slow decision-making once the refugee crisis hit last year have been fodder for critics who portray the EU as an inefficient, outmoded institution.
Even French President Francois Hollande, a staunch defender of the EU, was forced to admit Wednesday that the European Union's biggest problem is its slow decision-making process – whether in the financial crisis, the fight against terrorism or a common response to the refugee crisis.
In an interview in the German daily Bild, Hollande said “in the end (Europe) always succeeds in finding a solution … but we have to pay a high price for the lost time.”
More than 53,000 refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece since Austria and the Balkan nations north of Greece – Serbia, Croatia, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – closed their land borders last month.
Prior to that, hundreds of thousands fleeing war and poverty at home crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, then went over land to wealthy European nations like Germany and Sweden.
To stem that flow and break the Turkish smuggling rings ferrying migrants to Greece, the EU reached a deal with Turkey last month. Now those arriving on Greek islands from March 20 onwards who do not apply for asylum in Greece or whose application is rejected will be deported back to Turkey. For every Syrian returned to Turkey, another Syrian there will be relocated to a European country.
The deportations began Monday with 202 people being sent back from Greece to Turkey, but have been suspended for technical reasons.