When few bear the burden

Ever since its creation, the Dublin Regulation has caused uproar in the European Union (EU), highlighting the deep divisions among countries on migration policy. Recently, Bulgaria, which holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU until June, presented a proposal to amend the Regulation. Cyprus, Malta, Italy, Spain, and Greece, the frontline states, are contesting the proposed changes, claiming that the amendments don’t address the core problems of the current version.

Migration, asylum and border control are among the policy areas which best exemplify how difficult cooperation among EU Member States can be. Historical, economic, social, and political factors have shaped Member States’ perceptions of migration and the development of a common approach, or just even common guidelines, still seems a mirage.

Why Dublin needs reform

The aim of the Dublin Regulation is to identify the Member State responsible for examining asylum applications submitted by third-country nationals. Among those set out by the Regulation, the most applied criterion is that of the ‘first country of entry’. In other words, the country of arrival is most often identified as the one responsible for examining asylum requests. This mechanism has triggered an intense debate among Member States, since countries that receive the highest number of migrants are often overwhelmed, while others are very rarely a country of arrival, mostly due to their geographical location.

In 2015, when the number of migrants reaching European territories sharply increased, the EU set up a temporary relocation scheme, known as the quota system. This framework was aimed at establishing a fairer burden-sharing mechanism, by redistributing responsibility to examine asylum claims across Member States. The system was based on calculations taking into account factors such as Member States’ GDP and population size. The mechanism was supposed to relocate 160.000 asylum seekers from the countries in deepest need to others. The project proved to be a failure and it was suspended in September 2016, when only 28.000 migrants had been relocated.

The Bulgarian proposal

As already discussed in one of EUpinion’s weekly pieces, the Dublin Regulation reform is among the top priorities of the Bulgarian EU Presidency which will end in June. Bulgarian representatives are trying to ensure a compromise before the end of their mandate. However, their proposal encountered opposition of frontline states which claim that they would still be under higher pressure.

The new system would be based on a three-phased scheme, where each phase will depend on the severity of the situation. In case of more intense influx, the Commission would trigger a relocation scheme based on a voluntary commitment and backed up by financial inducements. In other words, asylum seekers would be relocated from countries under high pressure to others, voluntarily subscribing to the mechanism. Another new element introduced in this proposal concerns timing. Currently, an individual must stay 6 months in the country of arrival before applying for asylum elsewhere. The new system would extend this period to 10 years. On top of this, countries such as Hungary and Poland have pushed to include in the proposal the introduction of ‘pre-Dublin’ checks: controls aimed at assessing an individual’s right to seek asylum.

Political consensus vs. Burden sharing

The above-mentioned frontline states have submitted a Manifesto in which they outline the reasons of their opposition in 13 points. According to them, the proposal doesn’t address what is already considered one of the main flaws of the Regulation: the unfair burden sharing mechanism it creates. The new system would put arrival countries under additional pressure as their responsibility would be extended for a period of ten years. In addition, since the scheme is based on voluntary participation they wouldn’t have the certainty to receive help. Last but not least, the “pre-Dublin” checks would slow down the process, especially in case of many migrants arriving.

Talks on the Dublin Regulation seem to be surrounded by the same dilemma since the Regulation’s first amendment: how to appease anti-immigrant countries which wouldn’t even want a system to exist, while relieving frontline states from an excessive burden.

This proposal seems to address mainly the concerns of anti-immigrant states and reach political consensus instead of reducing the pressure on frontline states. Representatives of countries opposing the proposal have expressed their concerns since the next country holding the presidency, and thus coordinating talks on the matter, is Austria, which holds more conservative views on the matter.

Member States are trying to reach political consensus by getting anti-immigrant countries to agree to a proposal which doesn’t address the structural problems of the current system. If they would leave their own interests aside, a real burden sharing mechanism could be established.

Author: Ljuba Ferrario

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