EU member states, including heavyweights France, Germany and the UK, have blocked a European Commission proposal to suspend asylum rules in case of a massive influx of immigrants in an overburdened country, like Malta.

Justice Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici yesterday criticised their attitude and called upon his colleagues at a meeting of EU justice ministers to show real solidarity.

However, it seems likely the Commission will go back to the drawing board and come up with another proposal aimed at helping Malta and other hard-pressed member states.

In light of the stalemate, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said she would be prepared to put in place, with effect from 2012, “not a suspension mechanism but a joint emergency mechanism”. This would last six months and would be used only in exceptional situations, she said, without going into further detail.

According to EU asylum rules, known as Dublin II, applications for asylum have to be dealt with by the member state where an application is first made. This means southern EU member states like Malta, which form the EU’s border with Africa, are carrying a disproportionate burden when compared to the other member states in central and northern Europe. The rules give EU member states the right to send asylum seekers back to the country where they applied for asylum status.

Following intense pressure by Malta and other southern EU member states including Greece and Italy, the Commission had proposed that, in the case of unexpected and sudden influxes, a member state unable to cope with the situation could suspend itself from the obligations of the Dublin rules. This was vehemently opposed by the majority of member states, which put the Commission under pressure to withdraw the proposal.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici told his fellow ministers, however, that Malta would continue to insist on the need for this opt-out mechanism as it was not possible for a small island to carry such a disproportionate burden. “We know this is not an adequate solution in the long term but it offers a temporary solution for those member states carrying much more than their weight,” he said.

“If we want a common asylum system in the EU we need to be realistic. At the moment we believe certain aspects of the proposals are not sensitive enough and do not offer the required solidarity and burden sharing that is expected.”

Suspension of the rules should not be the way forward, other states argue, with Germany and France on the frontline in opposing the opt-out mechanism.

German Home Affairs Minister Thomas de Maiziere said special circumstances required special efforts and the suspension of the rules would not be the best option. The German stand was backed by his French colleague Eric Besson.

Even the UK delegation, which normally has a more liberal approach when it comes to migration, has come out against the Commission’s plan, saying the Dublin rules should be strengthened not suspended.

On the other hand, Greece, which has been facing a big migration influx of its own, said they had “reached their limits” in taking in asylum seekers.

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