Facing up to the challenge of our generation

German 10-point plan for European refugee policy response based on solidarity

Europe is facing a great challenge for our generation. Never before have so many people fled political persecution and war as today, many seeking refuge with us in Europe. In view of the crises in our neighbourhood we must assume that this may remain the case for years. As Europeans, we owe it to ourselves and to the world to rise to the great challenge posed by these people looking for help.

The response so far does not meet the standards that Europe must set for itself. The EU cannot postpone action any more. We need a European asylum, refugee and migration policy founded on the principle of solidarity and our shared values of humanity.

Ten points must urgently be addressed:

First, humane conditions must prevail throughout the EU when refugees are received. For this we need EU-wide standards, complied with in every member state.


Second, a common European asylum code must guarantee asylum status valid throughout the EU for refugees in need of protection. We need a new, much more ambitious integration of European asylum policy.

Third, we need a fair distribution of refugees. German citizens are helping to receive and integrate refugees into our society as never before. This solidarity will only be maintained long-term if people see the refugee crisis is being approached fairly throughout Europe. Today’s reality, in which only a handful of states shoulder the entire burden, is just as unsustainable as a system that forces those countries which happen to form the EU’s outer border to take the strain alone. So we must reform the existing “Dublin” system to create binding, objective criteria for refugee quotas for all member states that acknowledge their respective capabilities.

Fourth, Europe needs a common approach to managing borders not merely restricted to securing frontiers. Above all, more European responsibility for registering and looking after newly-arrived refugees.

Fifth, we must provide immediate assistance to the EU countries that are currently under particular strain. Germany alone has made available emergency funds to aid refugees on the Greek islands. The EU and its member states must become more efficient in this area and quickly offer countries first receiving refugees practical and financial support. In Germany we must ensure the municipal authorities are able to cope and so provide lasting and systematic financial support.

Sixth, we cannot stand idly by and watch people risk their lives trying to get to us. The Mediterranean cannot be a mass grave. Europe’s humanitarian legacy hangs in the balance. We launched enormous concerted efforts to organise marine rescue operations in the Mediterranean in the spring. We must consolidate these efforts in the long term and equip the EU with the capacities.

In the long run we will only be able to help refugees in need of protection if those who are not entitled to asylum return to their countries of origin. For this, we must, seventh, make readmission a key priority of our relations with the countries of origin and be prepared to make technical and financial support contingent on constructive co-operation.

Eighth, we need an EU-wide understanding on which nations we consider to be safe countries of origin. All countries of the western Balkans aim to join the EU, and we have good cause to extend to them the prospect of accession. This means that we cannot also treat them as persecuting countries. A country that fulfils the criteria of an EU accession candidate should be considered throughout the EU to be a safe country of origin.

Ninth, Germany needs an immigration Act. We need a prudent, controlled immigration policy that facilitates lawful stays for the purposes of employment.

Tenth, a comprehensive European asylum, refugee and migration policy also requires new political initiatives to fight the causes of flight in the countries of the Middle East and Africa. Stabilising failing states and curbing violence and civil war must go hand in hand with efforts to achieve economic development and create genuine economic and social prospects – especially for young people. All the international community's efforts, above all those of the EU and the UN, must be focused on this.

The political framework for action has long since ceased to be national. Only together and at European level will we be able at all to find rational solutions. This is why refugee and migration policy is currently the most important policy field in which we must further the project of European integration with dynamism and conviction.

Germany is ready to do its utmost to drive forward the common project of a refugee policy based on the principle of solidarity.

Sigmar Gabriel and Frank-Walter Steinmeier are respectively Germany's ministers for the economy and foreign affairs . The article appeared first in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung