Verhofstadt: Failure to reform EU asylum system should result in court action

Parliament's group leaders have expressed their outrage at EU leaders' failure to agree on a reform of Europe's migration system.
Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

12 Jun 2018

ALDE group Chair Guy Verhofstadt has said member states should be taken to court if they fail to act on Europe’s latest migration crisis.

His comments come as Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said on Tuesday that the country will take in a rescue ship stranded in the Mediterranean, to help avoid a humanitarian disaster.

Pedro Sánchez said he would give safe harbour to the Aquarius and the 629 people on board, after Italy and Malta both refused to let the ship dock. 


Verhofstadt, who was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, said, “If EU leaders fail to agree to reform our common European migration and asylum system during the next Council meeting, we have to bring court action.”

Since 2014 more than 10,000 men, women and children have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, he noted.

Verhofstadt criticised the Council for not taking the necessary action to end the crisis, adding, “I am not pointing the finger to any individual country, not to Italy, not to Malta, and certainly not to Spain. 

“It is too easy to blame Joseph Muscat (the Maltese Prime Minister) or Matteo Salvini (Italy’s new interior minister), even though I despise his ideas. It is too easy to give moral lessons from the north to the south, while the northern countries are hiding themselves behind an anti-European and broken asylum system.

“I am pointing the finger to all of them, all member states, the European Council. The tragedy in the Mediterranean is their fault, their collective responsibility. It is their responsibility that two years after the Commission proposed to reform the Dublin system, they still do not have a position. Member states still refuse to give to Europe full responsibility to protect our external borders. Worse, we outsourced this task to Erdoğan and now even to criminal gangs terrorising Libya.”

The Belgian MEP said, “The only way to avoid another disaster as we are witnessing today, is the setting up of reception centres in the transit countries in Africa. Refugees should have the possibility to apply for asylum and protection there. This way they are not pushed into the hands of human traffickers or Libyan criminal gangs who rape women and steal their money.” 

Further comment on the migration crisis came from GUE/NGL group leader Gabi Zimmer, who told a news conference that there was a “lot of disquiet” in Parliament’s political groups on the perceived failure to act on tackling the migration crisis and the “inaction of the Council.”

She told reporters, “This means we have to keep dealing with these human disasters, the same as we are seeing with Aquarius.

“I am glad that there is a willingness to take the ship but we should not be getting into these situations.”

Her fellow group member Barbara Spinelli, addressing the same press conference, said, “This is a time for European solidarity. The priority is to give these people a safe port. Not to do so is illegal under international law.”

Elsewhere, Parliament’s rapporteur on the revision of the Dublin regulation, Cecilia Wikström, said she wanted member states to “unite behind a joint negotiation mandate at the June summit.”

She said, “The last few days the argument between Italy and Malta illustrate the need for European solutions in the field of migration and the chaos that awaits if we fail. It is no longer acceptable to kick problems down the road; leaders now need to show leadership.

“I’m very happy about the united support for my work on Dublin from all Parliament colleagues. I am also happy we had a frank and constructive discussion with the Commission and the Bulgarian Council  presidency.”


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