EU floats new asylum system, seeks to stop 'asylum shopping'

The European Union's executive arm on Wednesday proposed a continent-wide asylum system that aims to speed up procedures and deter immigrants from "asylum shopping," where applicants go from one EU country to another seeking the best deal.

The European Commission's plan seeks to iron out differences in asylum acceptance rates and procedures between nations. It's the latest in a series of proposals to overhaul the EU's failed asylum laws, and follows a plan set out in May that foresees large fines for countries that refuse to accept refugees.

As the EU's asylum standards stand, "member states can decide how they implement them, thereby creating many discreprancies," EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said. "This creates not only unequal treatment of asylum-seekers, but also incentives for them to irregularly move to another member state to try and shop around."

The proposal, which would need approval from the bloc's member countries and the European Parliament, would introduce compulsory punishment — possibly including the rejection of an application — for those who abuse the process, don't cooperate with a country's authorities or make an unauthorized move to another country.

At the same time, asylum-seekers would guaranteed the right to a personal interview and free legal assistance, and the Commission aims to shorten asylum procedures — particularly in cases where applications are unfounded.

"For those worried that we are following a race to the bottom: no, it is exactly the opposite," Avramopoulos said, adding that the aim is a system "that is generous to the most vulnerable but strict to those who try to abuse it."

The Commission also announced plans for a more coordinated effort to resettle refugees living outside the 28-nation EU. The EU's executive would provide EU member countries with 10,000 euros ($11,080) per person resettled under the plan.

Avramopoulos sidestepped questions on what punishment countries might face for not taking part, saying that "we are not here to punish, but we are here to persuade."

Britain, Ireland and Denmark, which already have an opt-out from common rules on immigration, would not be required to participate in either plan.