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France pushes EU states to share asylum seeker load

Plan calls on 19 Schengen zone countries to commit to taking in asylum seekers from under-pressure States such as Greece, Italy and Malta.

France pushes EU states to share asylum seeker load
(Photo: Alain Jocard / AFP)

France is seeking to push the EU towards a long-stalled asylum pact with a plan to relocate some 10,000 asylum seekers to willing member states – and for unwilling ones to pay up instead.

The proposition, presented in the final weeks of France’s turn holding the European Union presidency, aims to unblock the thorny file with an incremental approach.

Instead of attempting to bulldoze through opposition from several, mostly eastern, member states to an overhaul of the bloc’s asylum rules, the plan calls for a “voluntary solidarity mechanism” on a 12-month test basis, according to a French document seen by AFP.

Presented on Friday to an EU interior ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg, it foresees the 19 states in the EU’s Schengen zone committing to taking in asylum seekers from under-pressure countries such as Greece, Italy and Malta.

Those that won’t take any in would provide financial contributions to help those that do.

EU diplomats said the non-binding measure would involve 10,000 asylum seekers per year, with the possibility of the plan being renewed annually.

“A big majority of countries have shown themselves favourable to this solidarity, and some dozen countries are favourable to relocalisations, which is very positive,” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said as he went in to chair the meeting.

He said France and Germany were among that dozen.

As the talks got under way, Darmanin tweeted there had been a “major advance” and that a large majority of member states would back the plan.

Countries opposed
The EU commissioner for migration, Ylva Johansson, said she saw the step as an important move after spending many months in a failed bid to have member states adopt a broader asylum reform proposal unveiled in September 2020.

It also came at a time that Europe was hosting more than four million Ukrainian refugees, who do not come under the asylum rules applied to other nationalities such as Syrians and Afghans, she noted.

“All countries are affected by the Ukrainian refugee crisis. But then we also have other refugees and migrants coming, and we need solidarity for that,” she said.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said she believed “10 to 12 countries” were behind the plan, which she was “pretty confident” would be adopted.

But her Austrian counterpart, Gerhard Karner, signalled strong opposition, saying: “I am absolutely against sending the wrong signal to people smugglers.”

The Netherlands has already said it will not take in asylum seekers under the proposal, though a diplomat said it might contribute in other ways.

Other countries such as Hungary and Poland have long resisted any compulsory migrant relocation scheme.

The French proposal stresses the identification of asylum seekers entering the bloc has been enhanced with enlarged use of Eurodac, a biometric database, and a new entry filtering system.

It also aims to minimise so-called secondary movements, where asylum seekers move on from the country where they are processed to another, often wealthier EU state, such as Germany or France.

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POLITICS

Voting rights for foreigners in France back on political agenda

Foreigners living in France could get the right to vote in certain elections if a newly-created bill passes through parliament.

Voting rights for foreigners in France back on political agenda

The newly elected president of the National Assembly’s law commission calmly lobbed a 40-year-old electoral hand-grenade into the political discourse of the summer – and then went on holiday.

Sacha Houlié, MP for the Vienne and a member of Macron’s LREM party, filed a bill on Monday that would, if passed, allow non-EU citizens living in France to vote and stand for office in local elections. 

Under current electoral legislation, only French citizens can vote in presidential and parliamentary elections; EU citizens in France can vote in local and European elections; and non-EU citizens have no voting rights in France whatsoever. 

EU citizens can also stand for office in local elections, but are barred from becoming mayor or running for a seat in the Assembly.

Since Brexit, Britons in France have not been allowed to vote in local or  local office, any many Brits who were on their local councils had to resign because they were no longer EU citizens.

Many countries limit voting for their citizens who are out of the country, so non-EU citizens living in France often do not have the right to vote in any country.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and the far-right Rassemblement National wasted little time criticising Houlié’s bill.

Darminin’s entourage said that the minister was “firmly opposed” to the idea.

The far-right party went further. “We have crossed the limits of indecency and incomprehension of what the French are asking for,” Rassemblement national spokesperson Laurent Jacobelli told Franceinfo, echoing the sentiment of the party’s interim president Jordan Bardella, who insisted the passing of the bill would mark the, “final dispossession of the French from their country”.

Houlié said: “The right to vote for European Union nationals in local elections already exists in France. No one is surprised that a Spaniard or a Bulgarian can vote in municipal elections. But it has surprised many people that the British can no longer do it since Brexit.”

Given the current shape of the Parliament in France, it seems unlikely that the latest bill will pass. But it is far from the first time it has been on the table.

François Mitterrand had pledged during his presidential campaign in 1981 to ensure “the right to vote in municipal elections after five years of presence on French territory.”

But, in the face of opposition from the right, he backed down from this particular promise. 

In October 2004, Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, tried to move forward with an electoral plan that would have allowed non-EU citizens certain voting rights – but was blocked by his own UMP party.

François Hollande re-launched the proposal during his 2012 campaign, before quietly letting it go in the face of opposition from both sides of the political spectrum.

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