The Dublin system has clearly failed, leaving most of the responsibilities for asylum to the frontline Member States of the EU. The time has come to reform it according to the principles of solidarity and equal sharing of responsibilities. The European Parliament has voted with a large majority to put in place a fairer and centralised Dublin system.
The EU’s Dublin Regulation sets the criteria that determine the responsibility of a member state for every asylum application lodged in the EU and is now being revised for the third time. When looking for the reasons for its failure, one can easily point out the fact that, for more than twenty years, the Dublin system relied mainly on a hypocritical criterion, namely “first country of irregular entry”, that throughout the years has put most of the responsibility for examining asylum requests on the front-line member states. When the migratory flows started increasing as a consequence of political instability – particularly after the worsening of the Libyan situation and then the Syrian crisis – and of increasing inequalities and impact of climate change, it became obvious that the current Dublin system was unfit for purpose and unsustainable. The time has come to finally address its shortcomings and move towards a fairer and more effective system based on the principles of solidarity and equal sharing of responsibility enshrined in Article 80 of the Treaty.
When the migratory flows started increasing as a consequence of political instability – particularly after the worsening of the Libyan situation and then the Syrian crisis – and of increasing inequalities and impact of climate change, it became obvious that the current Dublin system was unfit for purpose and unsustainable.
Sharing the responsibility
As a progressive reform of the Dublin system should therefore first and foremost entail a real responsibility sharing system between Member States in order to create the basis of a unified, centralised and truly Common European Asylum system.
On November 16th, 2017, the European Parliament voted by a large majority (390 in favour, 44 abstentions and 175 against) for a major change in the Dublin Regulation. With this historical vote, supported by the GUE, Greens, S&D, ALDE and EPP, the Parliament approved a strong mandate to negotiate with the Council a reform of the Dublin system that finally deletes the first country of entry criterion and replaces it with a permanent and automatic relocation mechanism, in which every member state has to participate by accepting a quota of asylum seekers (determined by population size and GDP). If the asylum seeker has no meaningful links with a Member State, the relocation mechanism would be triggered, providing them with a limited choice among the four Member States that are the furthest from reaching their quota. If a member state should refuse to comply with its obligations under the relocation mechanism, it would face consequences with regard to its reception of EU funds.
The Parliament has sent a very strong signal both to the Council and to European citizens: it wants common European solutions for what is clearly a European challenge that no member state can face alone. And the message is even clearer for those governments that refuse to contribute in terms of welcoming refugees. It is not possible to want only the benefits of belonging to the Union without sharing the responsibilities that stem from EU membership.
The European Parliament’s innovative proposals
The text voted by the Parliament contains many profoundly innovative elements. It generally strengthens the procedural guarantees and provision of information for asylum seekers, it introduces a special accelerated procedure for family reunifications (that could take up to two years now) and it ensures consideration of the meaningful links of the applicants with member states (e.g. a previous stay or academic titles) with a view to facilitating integration. Specific guarantees are added for minors, by ensuring the swift appointment of a guardian and by stating that any decision on minors should be preceded by a multidisciplinary assessment of his or her best interests.
Furthermore, the Parliament has rejected the mandatory inadmissibility checks proposed by the European Commission, based on the very vague and discretionary concept of safe third countries, as well as the sanctions approach that was replaced with a much more effective mechanism based on incentives to comply and disincentives for secondary movements.
From a progressive point of view, the Parliament’s position is a big step forward. It deserves all the support needed to put pressure on the Council in view of a very difficult and delicate negotiation. The future of the EU hangs on its ability to develop more effective and more human migration and asylum policies and we bear a huge responsibility for this. This is not ‘an invasion’, as the extreme right tries to depict it. In 2016, 1,250,000 asylum requests were presented in the whole of the EU, which represents only 0.25% of the EU’s population and the same number of refugees that Lebanon is hosting alone. With common European solutions based on solidarity and equal sharing of responsibility this phenomenon is not only perfectly manageable, but can also provide significant opportunities for local communities in the EU.