Our commitment does not end here

"Now it is important to ensure that EU law is always respected at our external borders and that the CEAS reform is implemented quickly and comprehensively", says Birgit Sippel, Member of the European Parliament and spokesperson of the S&D Group in the LIBE Committee.

Interview with Birgit Sippel, Member of the EU Parliament and spokesperson of the S&D group in the LIBE Committee.


Mrs Sippel, the EU institutions have been trying to change the Common European Asylum System for more than eight years. Even with the latest attempt, the EU Commission's proposals for a 2020 Migration and Asylum Pact, it took a long time for the Council and Parliament to finally reach an agreement. What were the biggest points of contention that prevented a quicker agreement?

The main reason for the long delay in the asylum and migration reform is undoubtedly that the Member States were unable to agree on a common negotiating position in the Council for years, which meant that the actual negotiations between Parliament and the Council could not begin.

This long delay in the Council was largely due to a lack of trust between the Member States, that were not guided by the "principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibilities between Member States", as stipulated in the European treaties. Instead, they insisted on their own positions for a long time and agreement on key proposals was only reached in the Council in June 2023. Some of the biggest points of contention right up to the end were the handling of refugees at the external borders and the issue of solidarity, as was also the case in Parliament.

When the negotiations between the Council and Parliament, known as the trialogues, began, it quickly became clear that any deviation from the Council's negotiating mandate was tantamount to an enormous feat of strength. In the Screening Regulation, for example, we had to fight for several months just to ensure that asylum law would continue to apply during this first phase.

Nevertheless, despite the long delay in the Council and the widely divergent starting positions, we managed to reach a comprehensive agreement in just a few months. This shows the determination and commitment of everyone involved over the past few months.


What is the focus of the central legal texts of the asylum reform?

I think everyone realised that the situation in recent years was intolerable. We are experiencing systematic human rights violations at our borders with numerous pushbacks that often go unpunished. The current EU asylum law has only been implemented sporadically by the Member States for years and instead of penalising this, the president of the Commission, von der Leyen, praises Member States that rely on rigorous isolation.

It is therefore important that we now create clear rules so that Member States fulfil their responsibilities and allow those seeking protection access to asylum in Europe. In particular, we are focussing on a Solidarity Mechanism that obliges Member States to support each other for the first time. This can be done by Member States taking in asylum seekers, but also by providing financial or material support.

In addition, the extended asylum border procedures and the regulations for safe third countries are undoubtedly key innovations of the reform. Both aspects are difficult to accept, especially for us Social Democrats, which is why we must closely monitor the implementation of and compliance with fundamental rights in the coming years.

Finally, for me as rapporteur in particular, the new screening procedure is a decisive innovation. This will enable us to register all irregular travellers across the board and subject them to an identity and security check. This will ensure that we in the EU always know who is entering the country and create a better basis for the subsequent procedures. We are also introducing a new monitoring mechanism for fundamental rights in the screening process, which will check compliance with EU and international law.

However, these are just a few, albeit very important, points. After all, we are talking about several hundred pages of legislation that the European Parliament will finally vote on in April, which once again emphasises the scope of the reform.


How do you assess the agreement?

There is no question that we in the S&D Group in particular had to make major concessions in order to facilitate a compromise and, despite everything, create clear rules. The risk of disproportionate detention in border procedures by the Member States, for example, is a point that we campaigned against right to the end. Unfortunately, the majority of Member States and other political groups in Parliament took a different approach, which meant that we were unable to prevail here.

However, as already mentioned, we were able to push through a mandatory Solidarity Mechanism and we can also be satisfied with the significantly strengthened fundamental rights monitoring mechanism for the screening.

We now need to ensure that European law is always upheld at our external borders and that the Member States, which agreed to the reform by qualified majority, implement it quickly and comprehensively. Our commitment does not end here. In fact, one of our core tasks in the next legislative period in the area of migration and asylum will be to ensure that the new Commission fulfils its obligations in full and enforces the new law in all Member States.


What are the next steps in the reform and how can actors from parliament and civil society campaign for the best possible implementation of the reform?

The majority of the Parliament's Committee on Internal Affairs already approved the reform on 14 February. The final legal language checks and translations into all official EU languages are currently underway, meaning that we will most likely vote on the entire package in Parliament's plenary session on 11 April. After that, it still needs to be formally adopted by the ministers of the Member States so that the new laws can be published in the Official Journal of the EU.

From then on, the Member States will have two years to implement the reform and prepare for the new rules. It will also be crucial that civil society, as well as local and regional stakeholders, are involved in this preparation. Many of the new rules will also directly affect our citizens, for example if they support refugees or even represent them as lawyers. It is therefore important that the Member States use this time efficiently now, while not losing sight of the fact that current law must be fully implemented by the time the reform comes into force.



Birgit Sippel has been a Member of the European Parliament since 2009. Since 2014, she has been spokesperson for the Socialist and Democrat S&D Group in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) and is a substitute member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL). She was also Vice-Chair of the Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence in the Digital Age (AIDA) and a substitute member of the Committee of Inquiry into the use of Pegasus and similar surveillance and spying software (PEGA). She was the European Parliament's lead negotiator for the regulation on access to electronic evidence (e-evidence) and continues to lead the negotiations for the regulations on privacy and electronic communications (ePrivacy) and for the screening procedure for third-country nationals at external borders, which the Commission presented as part of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum.

The opinions and statements of the guest authors expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect the position of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

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