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Germany and Austria working together on EU asylum law

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany and Austria are working on a proposal for a common European asylum law, Germany’s refugee crisis coordinator said in an interview with German magazine Focus.

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Hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere have arrived in Germany this year, with many entering from neighboring Austria.

Peter Altmaier, who Chancellor Angela Merkel tasked with overseeing the government’s handling of the refugee crisis, said in an interview published on Saturday that he was working closely with Josef Ostermayer, an Austrian minister involved in policy on the migration crisis.

“We’re talking about what such a system could look like,” said Altmaier, who is also Merkel’s chief of staff.

He said they would soon approach other countries such as France and the Netherlands, adding that there was more willingness to talk about the issue now than there had been for years.

So-called “hotspots” play a key role in the German-Austrian idea for an EU asylum law. These centers, which screen migrants arriving in Italy and Greece, aim to identify genuine asylum seekers and those eligible for the EU relocation program, created to share the refugee burden throughout the bloc.

At the moment there are only two such fully operational screening centers, out of 11 that are supposed to be set up.

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Asked what a common EU asylum law would look like, Altmaier said a basic decision would be made at the hotspots about whether someone needs protection or not.

“Those who get a positive decision will then be distributed around EU countries according to a formula and the actual asylum application will then be carried out in those countries,” he added.

The German government sees a European asylum law - alongside securing Europe’s external borders - as key to reducing the number of refugees coming to Germany, which is expected to reach about one million this year alone.

A spokesman for Ostermayer was not immediately available for comment.

Austrian daily Kurier reported earlier this month that Austrian Justice Minister Wolfgang Brandstetter had submitted a plan to Brussels suggesting common rules for processing asylum applications made at EU missions abroad or at hotspots set up by the EU or the “international community”.

That plan also calls for common criteria by which to judge applications, a common procedure for allowing people to enter the bloc, and a sharing of the financial burden among all member states, the newspaper said.

Reporting by Michelle Martin in Berlin and Francois Murphy in Vienna; Editing by Digby Lidstone