The 2015 migration crisis has had political consequences throughout Europe. Several proposals to reform the asylum system were presented by Member States or European institutions to break this stalemate. These can be classified into two categories.
Solutions for reducing the number of entering migrants
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who heads a populist coalition government, proposed a series of measures in 2018 aiming to strengthen external EU border controls. According to him, reducing the upstream flow of migrants — i.e. the number of migrants entering EU territory — will allow us to reduce the downstream flow and thus the "secondary movements" between EU countries..
Similarly, in March 2016, the EU reached an agreement with Turkey compelling the latter to prevent illegal entries from its territory into the EU in exchange for financial support (€3 billion for 2016 and 2017, and the same amount for 2018 and 2019). In February 2017, the EU also agreed to disburse €200 million to help Libya, in particular to allow the country to better equip its coast guard.
Likewise, in 2016, the European Commission proposed to implement a new regulation requiring Member States to preliminarily assess the admissibility of asylum applications before beginning the examination process. Applications from people who stayed in a "safe third-party country" before reaching the EU would be rejected.
The limitations of these solutions
Can we externalize the care of migrants who want to reach our territory to third-party countries — sometimes in appalling conditions — even though some of them would be eligible for protection in Europe?
- Are these viable long-term solutions? Some countries could soon be overwhelmed with arriving migrants. Moreover, not all countries will manage to control their borders as tightly as Turkey does.
- Can we distort the spirit of the Geneva Convention to this extent? UNHCR recently recalled that, by virtue of article 35 of the Convention, "asylum cannot be refused simply on the grounds that it could have been requested in another State."
- Is it viable for Europe to be so dependent? Turkey's demands are already increasing.
Solutions for distributing the burden among Member States
In 2015, faced with a record influx of migrants in EU territory, the European Commission proposed to the Council that a temporary mechanism be established in order to relocate asylum seekers in various Member States based on an automatic and binding system. The latter was meant to relocate 160,000 people present in Italy, Greece, and Hungary "who clearly need international protection."
The Council later approved this proposal for 120,000 people present in Italy and Greece. In May 2018, the Commission published an assessment of the implementation of this system indicating that only 35% of the migrants were relocated. This can partially be explained by certain countries’ refusal to implement this plan, with Hungary and Poland having relocated no migrants at all. In 2017, the Commission launched infringement proceedings against these countries and Slovakia for non-compliance with the Council's conclusions.
Faced with this deadlock and given the urgency of the situation, it is critical to reform the European asylum system.