The European Commission stepped up the pressure Wednesday on Germany and six other EU countries for incorrectly implementing asylum rules, giving them two months to rectify the situation or face the risk of being referred to the bloc's top court.
The move comes as the European Union struggles to get under control a migration crisis that saw more than 1 million migrants and refugees reach its shores last year. The commission, the bloc's executive, has blamed member states for not implementing agreed solutions.
"What we did today is to put everybody in front of their responsibilities," EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said. "We have to ... cope with human beings, with people, desperate people who are seeking refuge in Europe."
To bring EU countries into line on migration, the commission has started using infringement procedures - a punitive process that can culminate in the European Court of Justice issuing hefty fines.
On Wednesday, the commission tightened the screws on Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia and Slovenia by taking their infringement procedures to the next step.
The countries have failed to prove that they fully implemented new EU rules on issues like asylum applications and reception standards for asylum seekers, the commission said.
Differences between EU member states' asylum systems are fuelling movements by asylum seekers, it argued.
But the problem also goes beyond those seven countries. In a progress report prepared for an EU summit next week, the commission said that, in general, "numerous deadlines have not been met and commitments are slow to be fulfilled" when it comes to tackling the migration crisis.
"We have lost time already, this is a fact," Avramopoulos said. "And this is not acceptable."
EU countries have for instance only taken over 497 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, even though they have pledged to relocate more than 100,000 in an effort to ease the burden on those two countries.
Avramopoulos said he sent a letter Wednesday to each interior minister in the 28-country bloc "to remind them that they are bound by the relocation decisions, which have to be implemented immediately."
Austria, however, should be granted some leeway given how many asylum seekers already have arrived there, the commission proposed.
Greece and Italy, as the first entry points for most migrants, have meanwhile faced EU pressure to better process arrivals.
While there has been a "considerable improvement" in both countries, more still needs to be done, Avramopoulos said. Greece has promised to have a further four centres to register and fingerprint migrants ready within 10 days, he added.
An estimated 68,000 migrants and asylum seekers have arrived in Greece since the start of the year. Despite the difficult conditions in the country, the commission on Wednesday raised the spectre of asylum seekers being sent back to Greece by other European countries.
Such transfers are required under EU rules, but were put on hold in 2011 when Greece's asylum system was found to be inadequate. The commission called on Athens to take urgent measures "in view of the gradual resumption of transfers." But Avramopoulos said these were not imminent.
Also on Wednesday, the commission called on Turkey to step up efforts to stem illegal migration flows from its territory to the EU "as a matter of urgency." The bloc has struck a deal with Ankara on the matter, but its implementation has lagged.
"The Turkish authorities, if they really want, they can do the job on the ground – fighting smugglers and stemming the flows," Avramopoulos said. "Turkey has to be put on board."
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