Ideas on Europe

The Reform of Common European Asylum System

©Daniel Schludi sur Unsplash The Reform of Common European Asylum System
©Daniel Schludi sur Unsplash

Every Monday, a member of the international academic association ‘UACES’ will address a current topic linked to their research on euradio.

Daniele Saracino, good to have you back in our programme! You are lecturer in European Studies at the University of Essex, working on migration, asylum and solidarity.

We can say that these three topics have given rise to much contention for almost a decade now.

During the migratory movements to Europe in 2015/2016, the dysfunctionality of the so-called Dublin regulation and by extension the whole European asylum system was under display. The political crisis was exacerbated when some Member States, like Poland and Hungary, refused to implement a temporary relocation scheme that aimed at sharing the responsibility for refugees more equally, even after the European Court of Justice had confirmed the duty to apply this measure. These countries then escalated the crisis by continuing to break EU law.

Since then, the focus of asylum cooperation has shifted solely on deterrence and entry restriction. Policy solution now include the so-called hotspots in Italy in Greece, made infamous by the Moria camp, the installing of border fences, the proclaimed ‘closure’ of the Balkan route, and the EU-Turkey statement. All of them were problematic regarding human rights standards and constituted a clear shift from asylum policy and refugee protection to border controls and strengthening externalisation of responsibility.

Where do things stand now?

The Commission’s reform proposals reacted to the overall shift in the European Union, spearheaded by Poland and Hungary, to give priority to entry prevention by derogating from human rights, lowering the protection standards for refugees and strengthen border controls. Even countries like Germany, Austria, Sweden, Finland, or Greece who used to call themselves the ‘coalition of the willing’, open to a solution that could balance refugee protection and fair sharing of responsibilities, have now aligned their preferences to this approach.

Today, the only remaining contention between Member States is around questions of how to better share responsibility and how much human rights standards should be lowered. This is underscored by the increasing toleration by all Member States and the Commission of human rights violations through pushbacks in the Aegean Sea or pull-backs by the so-called Libyan coastguard, financed by the EU, as well as the de facto suspension of asylum standards in Hungary.

And these tendencies are now reflected in the reform agreed on 20 December.

They are. We have border screening procedures where access to legal counsel remains unclear and where detention is the norm, including for children, and where requirements to go through the procedure seem arbitrary. We can now derogate from international law provisions in perceived ‘extraordinary circumstances’, where pushbacks become a legitimate option as well as suspending the human right to an asylum claim. And we have further externalisation of migration control to third countries where asylum-seekers likely face lower protection standards.

On the other hand, the so-called ‘solidarity mechanism’ to address the lack of responsibility sharing among EU Member States looks weak and gives individual states the option to ‘buy out’ of their responsibilities. And even with this option, some states, like the Czech Republic, Hungary, and even the new liberal Polish government have already signalled there are not going to comply with this new mechanism at all.

That does not really sound like an improvement.

Most experts have serious doubts whether the reform provisions can actually work in practice.

What seems apparent is that it is not going to stop or even significantly decrease migratory movements. It will just make seeking protection in the EU more costly and dangerous for the people on the move and bolster the smuggling networks.

It will not solve internal disputes between member-states either. And externally, the EU is risking its reputation as a defender of human rights, undercutting the fundamental principle of the rule of law, strengthening the far-right by adopting their policy preferences, and potentially deterring desired labour migration by treating unwanted asylum-seekers inhumanly.

And we haven’t even mentioned the criminalisation of sea rescue missions that treats people seeking protection in the EU, as well as the people trying to safeguard their rights, as criminals by default.

In summary, it is unlikely that the CEAS reform is going to solve any of its underlying problems or going to achieve its envisioned policy objectives. It’s rather weakening core elements of the European idea.

Many thanks, Daniele Saracino, for sharing your concerns with us. I recall you are lecturer at the University of Essex, in the UK.