BRUSSELS: The European Commission warned Wednesday that 19 EU member states, including France and Germany, faced possible sanctions for failing to implement rules on handling asylum seekers coming to Europe.
“It is about time that member states stepped up to the plate and did what they need to do,” European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said as EU leaders gathered in Brussels for an emergency summit on the migrant crisis.
“A common asylum system can only work if every country respects the rules,” Timmermans said after officials met to prepare for the summit.
The 28-nation EU has established a whole series of rules governing the handling of asylum seekers in Europe, from their arrival, to registration, treatment and rights pending a decision.
The system was completed in July this year but the flood of hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war and turmoil across the Middle East and Africa in recent months has strained it to the limit and exposed divisions within the European Union.
EU interior ministers agreed Tuesday to relocate some 120,000 processed asylum seekers around the bloc but this is an emergency measure and falls outside the new system.
Timmermans said the Commission, the EU’s executive arm, had taken the first step in 40 infringement procedures, in addition to 35 already opened, by sending formal letters of notice to the concerned countries.
He said only five member states had fully transposed the EU rules into national law and urged their peers to follow suit quickly.
This was not only necessary in terms of dealing with the influx of refugees but was also an essential step to ensuring the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone could work properly.
Several member states, especially in eastern Europe, have closed their borders or suspended crossing points in an attempt to halt the refugee influx, in violation of Schengen rules.
Timmermans said that if the rules were properly applied, “this would be one way to restore confidence in the Schengen area.”
The 40 infringement procedures announced Wednesday mostly concern member states failing to inform Brussels of how they have transposed EU asylum rules into their national law.
Greece, Italy and Hungary, which have borne the brunt of the migrant inflow, are also on the list.