Today, the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (LIBE) voted on the two outstanding pieces of the asylum package. An overwhelming majority voted for the proposals. As EU Member States have already informally approved the package in its entirety (six directives in total), we are now only awaiting the vote in the European Parliament plenary before we have a decision on a Common European Asylum System. This is a milestone for European cooperation, something that we have negotiated for many, many years. It will lead to better quality and conditions in the asylum systems of EU Member States, guaranteeing that the person who applies for asylum will have the right to things like interpretation, legal counsel, and a reply to his of her application within a certain timeframe. Additional support will be directed to the most vulnerable refugees, such as unaccompanied children, women who have been sexually violated, and victims of torture. The common asylum system raises the standard in all areas, compared to the legal framework in place today.
Reaching an agreement on this legislation has been one of the most important goals for me as Commissioner, if not the most important. The countries of the EU have been discussing this since 1999, and the difference between Member States in receiving refugees is unacceptable. A small number of countries are taking a great share of the responsibility, whilst others should be able to do a lot more.
Our European cooperation is founded on the values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, and human rights. This is something that we can all agree upon. The European asylum system will strengthen the rights of those who are fleeing persecution or conflict. The EU is thereby demonstrating that all Member States are willing to help those in need, and that we will do so in a dignified manner.
However, we cannot celebrate quite yet. The agreement between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament must be formally endorsed in the plenary of the European Parliament. This will most likely happen in June of this year.
Common rules and standards for the reception of refugees are enormously important. It should not matter to which country you flee – an asylum seeker should know that his or her application will be treated correctly everywhere. If all EU Member States have a fully functioning reception system, we can also help more people in need. Through today’s decision in the LIBE committee, the standards of protection and reception will be raised, and rules will become clearer.