The EU executive has delayed making public its proposals for reform of Europe's asylum system, seeking to avoid opening new controversy as national leaders try to finalize a deal with Turkey to slow migration.
The European Commission had been scheduled to issue a first official statement on its proposals after its weekly meeting on Wednesday, on the eve of a two-day summit of national leaders who hope to seal their initial deal with Ankara on Friday.
The Commissioners will discuss migration, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday, including the Turkish deal. But possible changes to the "Dublin" rules on national responsibility for asylum claims wouldn't be published until April 6.
Senior EU officials and diplomats had urged delay on Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in order to avoid opening new disputes among national governments until after the delicate process of concluding the Turkish accord.
The Commission is scheduled to propose legislation on the asylum rules late next month and officials say it is likely before that to suggest various options to states to consider as they struggle to save their open-border Schengen zone from the frontier closures prompted by chaotic movements of migrants.
Italy and Germany, respectively a main entry point for people reaching Europe and the main destination for refugees, have pushed jointly for asylum decisions to be made at a European level and for refugees to be brought directly and safely into Europe to be resettled across the bloc.
Italy, like Greece, should under the Dublin rules have prevented the onward movement of hundreds of thousands of people towards Germany and should have handled claims locally as the first EU state entered. But in practice Italy and Greece have been overwhelmed and turned a blind eye to people going north.
Rome and Berlin have spoken up for a permanent system by which those seeking asylum are shared out among the 28 member states. But other states have made clear they do not want to alter a status quo that gives the first EU country entered by a would-be refugee the prime responsibility for dealing with them.
France, according to a position paper seen by Reuters, wants the Commission to propose a limited and temporary mechanism, such as has been put in place in recent months, to relocate asylum seekers and ease the strain on member states in crisis.
But the country has attracted relatively few refugees and is concerned that the current Dublin system's legal structures should not be radically changed, while it proposed tougher enforcement of rules against migrants seen to be exploiting the system to avoid deportation and choose which country to live in.
Britain, too, is cautious as Prime Minister David Cameron urges voters to remain in the EU, with his opponents in a June referendum emphasising the migrant chaos. Though outside Schengen, Britain benefits from the Dublin deal by being able to deport asylum seekers to other states where they entered the EU.
Source: Voice of America