EU Commission cracks down on 19 countries in breach of asylum rules

2015-09-23 18:55
Frans Timmermans (AP)

Frans Timmermans (AP)

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Brussels - The European Commission cracked down on 19 EU countries on Wednesday for incorrectly implementing asylum rules, launching punitive actions that could eventually lead to fines.

"Our common European asylum system can only function if everyone plays by the rules," commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said in a statement.

"Today's 40 infringement proceedings are meant to ensure that member states actually implement and apply what they had previously agreed to do," he added.

The move came as Europe struggles to cope with its biggest influx of migrants and asylum seekers since World War II.

The only countries to escape unscathed were Croatia, Finland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia.

Britain, Denmark and Ireland have exemptions that do not require them to implement all EU rules. Italy did not have action taken against it on Wednesday, but has been asked for clarifications in the past.

"I'm sorry to say that until now, only five member states have properly transposed and implemented the asylum legislation," Timmermans told journalists in Brussels.

The others - Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden - were sent letters of formal notice on Wednesday.

They are the first step in the infringement procedures, which can culminate in the European Union's top court issuing hefty fines against member states that fail to abide by the bloc's laws.

The commission said the countries had failed to prove that they fully implemented new EU rules on issues such as asylum applications, the process of granting international protection, and minimum reception standards for asylum seekers.

"It is not enough to agree something. It has to be correctly implemented in order to avoid asylum shopping," EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said, referring to the practice of asylum seekers heading for countries that offer the best conditions.

The 19 countries have two months to reply.

Greece was singled out for the "serious deficiencies" that remain in its asylum system - notably on reception conditions for asylum seekers - despite commission warnings that date back to 2009.

The country has become the main gateway to Europe for migrants.

"While progress has been made, there is still a structural and persistent lack of reception capacity, independent of the large and unexpected influxes which have recently been observed," the commission said.

The EU's executive also went a step further against Bulgaria and Spain, sending them a second warning on their implementation of EU standards that regulate who qualifies for international protection.

They have two months to comply or be referred to the European Court of Justice.

Germany received some criticism for its decision to no longer turn back Syrians, which unleashed a wave of migrants attempting to reach the country.

"In my eyes, it was an initiative that somehow contributed in collapsing [the] Dublin system," Avramopoulos said, referring to EU rules that require asylum applications to be processed in the first member state a person sets foot in.

But he was quick to add that Germany "didn't do it intentionally".

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he did not expect the infringement procedures to "dramatise" talks at the EU leaders' special summit on migration on Wednesday.

Read more on:    eu  |  migrants

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