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The illusion of a common EU asylum policy

April 6, 2016

The EU's current asylum system may not be enough in future, as the Commission has said. Yet their proposals for reform won't find a majority among the EU states, Christoph Hasselbach predicts.

Merkel Selfie with Anas Modamani
Image: Getty Images/S. Gallup

The disadvantage of the Dublin system is that individual states that, due to their location, are points of entry for refugees, like Greece and Italy, bear the brunt of the burden. If all of the member states had rigorously applied the Dublin Regulation, few refugees would have arrived in Germany or Sweden. Nearly all of them would have had to put in the application for asylum in Greece or Italy, wait there and - depending on the result of their process - either be taken in for settlement or be deported. Considering the arrival numbers were in the hundreds of thousands, the two countries rightly found this system unfair.

Athens and Rome made it easy for themselves, waving through to the north refugees without registration let alone an asylum process. They didn't make any friends that way. Athens was practically even rewarded for abusing European standards by mistreating refugees to the point that European judges prohibited other European countries from returning refugees to Greece.

Dublin has its advantages

While Germany has been very patient with the unregulated state of affairs, others have closed their borders and then shut the Balkan route. Austria also wants to seal off the Brenner Pass over the Alps from migrants who may perhaps in future come in great numbers across the Mediterranean to Italy.

As it stands, European asylum policy is above all a skeptical every-man-for-himself policy. Whoever wants to reform it into something that is equally distributed and Europeanized needs to remember: already back in the fall, EU members as a majority agreed to divvy up 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy and spread them across Europe. The basis for this was the "fairness mechanism," which the Commission is once again calling into play. Yet the number of refugees distributed to date remains so minimal and the resistance so large, that one can no longer have any illusions about further proposals.

DW's Christoph Hasselbach
DW's Christoph Hasselbach

Among others, the proposals currently being tossed around under the Commission's Option Two include a long-term method of distribution. Germany's chancellor floated the idea - and was met with icy rejection. Others have criticized that without securing the outer borders, the door is open for unlimited immigration. That's the great advantage of Dublin: it gives clear direction as to who is responsible and the main countries of arrival will then have motivation to secure their borders and in doing so, oversee the EU's outer borders. Since the Balkan route has been closed, the wave-through no longer works.

The number of refugees is decisive

A slightly revised version of the Dublin Regulation might thus have the best chance at a majority. Even so, the problem remains that the member states agree to a reform but remain non-committal to it as soon as the "fairness mechanism" is activated.

At the end, all of this is dependent upon the numbers of refugees. If the flow is markedly reduced for a long period, then redistribution is a problem that can be overcome. If it soon reaches the dimensions it was at in the second half of 2015, every state will want to help themselves - even at the expense of the others. That's why the initial goal has to be the avoidance of a new mass migration flow.

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