austria slovenia migrants.jpg
Photograph: EPA/CHRISTIAN BRUNA

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere called Thursday for a quick reform of the European Union's asylum rules as well as an extension of temporary border controls, at talks with his EU counterparts on how to better manage migration flows to the bloc.

More than 1 million migrants and asylum seekers arrived in Europe last year, with most of them seeking out Germany and other wealthy northern states.

Under EU rules, asylum claims should be registered in the member state where people first set foot, but the so-called Dublin system collapsed last year.

The European Commission, the bloc's executive, has since laid out reforms to better handle crisis situations, but many of its proposed measures - including a scheme to redistribute asylum seekers from overburdened member states - are controversial.

Germany would like a reformed Dublin system to take effect within 18 months, de Maiziere said ahead of Thursday's talks in Luxembourg. "That would be a very good speed for European legislation, and that is what we need," he added.

But others are less enthusiastic, with central European countries in particular opposing plans for a permanent mechanism to accept asylum seekers from other member states or else pay 250,000 euros (276,000 dollars) for each rejected refugee.

"Migrants are not figures. They have [their] own will," said Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Slovakia has instead proposed a concept of "flexible solidarity" in tackling migration, without providing detailed ideas.

"Those who introduced the phrase should now explain more clearly what they mean," de Maiziere said, noting that tasks can be divided but solidarity cannot be chosen at will.

Ministers also said they would raise the prospect of extending border controls introduced within the passport-free Schengen zone during the migration crisis, which are currently set to expire on November 12.

Germany, Austria and Denmark are among those calling for the measure to be renewed.

The commission has sought to reopen internal EU borders by the end of the year, while ramping up security on the bloc's external frontiers. But it would "not prejudge" any future decision to prolong border controls, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said.

The ministers made progress, meanwhile, on efforts to repatriate so-called economic migrants who are not entitled to stay in Europe - a key element of the bloc's response to last year's surge in arrivals.

They gave the final go-ahead for a new EU-wide travel document that should facilitate and speed up the return of migrants to their home countries.

Less than 40 per cent of return decisions were enforced in 2014, according to the commission, due in part to a lack of ID documents acceptable to migrants' countries of origin.

"Our efforts to protect those in need must go hand in hand with the establishment of an effective and credible policy for the return of irregular migrants," Avramopoulos said.

Latest news

Serbia's EU negotiator says minority rights neglected

The head of the Serbia's European Union accession negotiation team, Tanja Miscevic, said in Novi Sad on Wednesday that minority rights had been neglected for many years and added that positive results in that regard cannot be achieved over night, the Beta news agency has reported. 

Scientists: Nearby star's 7 rocky planets are "best bet" for life

New analysis of telescope data shows a dwarf star just 40 light years from Earth has at least seven apparently rocky planets with potential to harbour water, an international team of scientists announced Wednesday.

Croatian PM receives EIB Vice-President

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic met on Wednesday with European Investment Bank (EIB) Vice-President Dario Scannapieco for talks on the bank's contribution to a new investment cycle in Croatia and its support to the Croatian government to implement key projects, a press release from the government's office said.

Bomb explodes outside police officer's home in Northern Ireland

A bomb exploded outside a police officer's home in Northern Ireland on Wednesday but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Denmark to charge man with blasphemy over burning Koran

Danish prosecutors said Wednesday they have opened a rare blasphemy case against a man who videotaped himself burning a copy of the Koran.

South Africa to raise taxes for the wealthiest

South Africa will raise the income tax rate for the country's wealthiest to 45 per cent from 41 per cent, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced Wednesday.

Reformist Macron wins support of key centrist leader for French vote

France's reformist presidential hopeful, Emmanuel Macron, got a boost on Wednesday when he picked up the support of a party leader whose centrist constituency played a pivotal role in the last two presidential elections.

Amnesty International warns of nationalist rhetoric and hate speech in Croatia

Croatia continues to have problems with discrimination against ethnic minorities and with freedom of the media, while heightened nationalist rhetoric and hate speech during election time contributed to growing ethnic intolerance and insecurity in the country, global human rights watchdog Amnesty International said in its annual report on the state of human rights in the world in 2016/2017.

Official assigned to Wilders' security team held by Dutch police

A security official assigned to protect Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders is being held by police on suspicion of passing along classified information about the lawmaker to a Dutch-Moroccan crime gang.

100th anniversary of rescuing starving children marked

A special ceremony was held in Zagreb's Croatian National Theatre on Wednesday to mark the 100th anniversary of one of the greatest humanitarian undertakings in the history of the Croatian people which saved children in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina from famine in the last two years of World War I.

Italy's 'Red Thing' could make impact in election debut, polls show

Two polls conducted for RAI public broadcaster released Wednesday showed a new entity that split from Italy's ruling Democratic Party

Council: Nixing grants to "Novosti" would cause far-reaching implications

The Council for National Minorities, a state-level autonomous umbrella organisation for all ethnic minorities in Croatia, has stated that the cancellation of financial grants to the "Novosti", a newspaper of the ethnic Serb minority, would produce far-reaching implications and stir criticism for reduction of free speech and of freedom of expression of the most numerous ethnic minority.