Commission proposes minimum standards of reception for those seeking asylum in the EU
The European Commission today adopted a proposal for a Directive setting out minimum standards on the reception of asylum applicants by EU Member States. Under this proposal, all Member States would be obliged to to provide asylum seekers with a minimum level of support to ensure a dignified standard of living, including special help for the most needy. Common rules to avoid abuse of the asylum system are also provided by this proposal.
Announcing the proposal, António Vitorino, Commissioner responsible for Justice and Home Affairs, said : "This proposal responds to the request made by EU Heads of State and Government at the Tampere European Summit for a common EU policy on asylum and immigration".
A mimimum level of support with special help for the vulnerable
The proposal aims to harmonise the legal situation and the assistance granted to asylum seekers and their families while their cases are being considered by Member State authorities. It is based upon the principle that asylum applicants should be ensured a dignified standard of living. Under the proposal, a minimum level of assistance will have to be granted to asylum seekers, in keeping with EU Member States' constitutional traditions of respect for human rights. Access to the labour market will not be forbidden six months after the request has been filed. Special rules for groups with special needs (unaccompanied children, victims of torture, pregnant women) will have to be applied. Finally, a system of peer pressure to ensure national systems are comparable will be established.
Avoiding abuse of the asylum system
To avoid abuse of the reception system by those who should not benefit from it, the proposal envisages a number of measures. Member States may ask applicants who can afford to do so to contribute towards the cost of their reception (housing, health care, etc.). Member States will be able to reduce or withdraw this support in circumstances where this is justified:
when applicants have demonstrated that they are not serious about their asylum procedure (e.g. by not appearing for personal interview concerning their application)
when their behaviour makes the continued granting of reception unreasonable (e.g. violent behaviour in an accommodation centre).
This proposal is closely linked to the Commission's proposal regarding common standards for asylum procedures (see background below). An efficient and fair asylum procedure will allow a reasonably quick examination of applications for asylum, thereby limiting the period during which reception is granted, especially in cases of inadmissible or manifestly unfounded applications.
This Commission's legislative proposal is closely linked to the proposal for a Directive on minimum standards for Member States' procedures for granting and withdrawing refugee status was adopted by the Commission in September 2000 and is currently being discussed by the Council.
The proposal had been included in the scoreboard to review progress on the creation of an area of freedom, security and justice in the European Union adopted by the Commission on 24 March 2000 and approved by the Council. It was confirmed in the Communication "Towards a common asylum procedure and a uniform status, valid throughout the Union, for persons granted asylum" adopted on 22 November 2001.
The proposal directly follows up the conclusions of the extraordinary European Council in Tampere of 15-16 October 1999, where it was agreed to work towards establishing a Common European Asylum System which should include, in the first stage, "common minimum conditions of reception of asylum seekers".
The proposal is based on Article 63(1) (b) of the Treaty establishing the European Community. It does not apply to Denmark, which has opted out of Title IV of the EC Treaty. Under the rules of the Protocol governing their positions as regards Title IV of the EC Treaty, the United Kingdom and Ireland will give notification as to whether or not they wish to participate in the adoption of the text.
In December 1999 the Commission commissioned a Study, delivered at the beginning of November 2000, "on the legal framework and administrative practices in the Member States of the European Union regarding reception conditions for asylum seekers, displaced persons and other persons seeking international protection".
In June 2000 the French delegation presented a discussion paper on conditions for the reception of asylum seekers that was followed by the adoption of Conclusions by the December Council.
At the end of July 2000, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published an important study on the same issue.
In December 2000 the Commission thought it appropriate to have bilateral consultations with Member States, on the basis of a discussion paper concerning the future Community instrument on reception conditions for applicants for asylum in the European Union. As well as the Member States, the Commission specifically consulted the UNHCR and some of the more relevant non-governmental organisations.
The December Council Conclusions, the Reception Conditions Study and the written and oral comments expressed on the Commission's discussion paper have been the 'foundation' material that has been used to draft this proposal. The UNHCR Study, The Danish Refugee Council Fourth Report on Legal and Social Conditions for asylum seekers and Refugees in Western European Countries, the existing soft law (principally the 1997 Council Resolution on unaccompanied minors who are nationals of third countries) have also been taken into account. Finally, attention has been paid to the draft joint action on conditions for reception of asylum seekers, tabled by the Spanish Presidency in 1995 but never approved.