Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser in Brussels
Photo: OLIVIER HOSLET / EPA
For weeks, the German government had been on the brakes on the reform of EU asylum law, then Interior Minister Nancy Faeser spoke the supposedly redeeming words: "Although we still need further changes, we are living up to our responsibility today." Germany will agree to the compromise on the so-called crisis regulation, said the SPD politician on Thursday at a meeting with her EU colleagues in Brussels.
This made it clear that there was a qualified majority, because in the Council of Ministers, apart from Poland and Hungary, no one objected at first. The agreement was to be officially sealed immediately afterwards at a meeting of EU ambassadors – but this did not take place on Thursday. Because, as it turned out, the Italian government now has a problem with the compromise proposal.
Until recently, the Greens in the traffic light coalition in particular had made a front against the crisis ordinance. It is a central part of the asylum reform package: in exceptional situations, such as an extreme increase in the number of migrants, it is intended to make it possible to detain asylum seekers in reception centres longer than would otherwise be permitted.
The regulation is also intended to increase the number of people who are eligible for the planned strict asylum procedures at the EU's external border procedures. Currently, it will only apply to asylum seekers from countries whose recognition rate is less than 20 percent on average in the EU. In Germany, only a minority of asylum seekers would be affected.
The resistance of the German government had led to the Spanish Council Presidency on Wednesday once again making changes to its compromise proposal and coordinating with other EU states. In the process, a passage was deleted that would have allowed not only the length of stay in detention-like conditions in crisis situations, but also the lowering of the protection standards for migrants.
Thus, one of the main demands of the Federal Government was fulfilled. But Italy's government found the deletion of the paragraph anything but appropriate, diplomats explained.
In addition, Rome has a problem with another passage that deals with the rescue of refugees and migrants at sea. If such bailouts follow "European standards", they should not be regarded as the "instrumentalisation of migrants", the compromise text said. This makes the position politically explosive, especially for Italy – because it means that Rome could not use such sea rescue operations as an opportunity to trigger the crisis regulation with its stricter conditions.
According to the regulation, this would require a decision by the responsible EU Council of Ministers anyway. But according to diplomats, the Italian government, led by right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, took this as an opportunity not to agree to the formalization of the compromise for the time being.
However, this is necessary so that the Council of Member States can enter into negotiations with the EU Parliament, which must ultimately approve the entire asylum package. Time is running out: the European elections are coming up next June. If the asylum package is not adopted by the end of the year, or by February at the latest, it could fail altogether for the time being.
On the other hand, the federal government was unable to assert itself with other demands. She also called for exemptions for children and adolescents under the age of 18 and their family members. "We very much regret that there is no majority for it," said Faeser. However, they will continue to advocate for such regulations elsewhere.
Scholz's "word of power" causes frustration in Brussels
According to EU diplomats, Green Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock spoke on the phone with Commission President von der Leyen on Saturday about the crisis regulation and introduced the German points.
But the diplomatic offensive of the Germans was undermined by the Chancellery, of all people. On Wednesday afternoon – just as Baerbock and Faeser were sitting together in the Ministry of the Interior on Wednesday afternoon and fine-tuning their negotiating strategy – the "Bild" newspaper reported a "word of power" from Olaf Scholz. The chancellor had ended the coalition's internal dispute over the crisis ordinance with the dictum that Germany would "not stop" the asylum package.
Germany's negotiating position in Brussels was thus significantly weakened, as diplomats in Brussels criticized. "Scholz should have spoken on the phone with Meloni instead of with the 'Bild< newspaper," says an EU diplomat.
Whether and if so, when Italy agrees to the compromise was unclear after the ministerial meeting on Thursday. It is hoped that an agreement will be reached "in the next few days," said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson and Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska. This is expected before the informal EU summit in Granada, Spain, next Friday.
There are "no longer any political hurdles" on the way to an agreement, Johansson said. She dodged the question of why Italy did not agree on Thursday. One should please "just believe" that the thing will succeed.