Since 2008, Emmaus Europe has constantly defended migrants’ rights and campaigned about the ‘asylum package’. Now, in early 2013, it is time to take stock of the implementation of the common European asylum system, which was initially scheduled for completion in late 2012.
What are the stumbling blocks to harmonisation?
Achieving a balance between European ambitions and national policies and between economic and political objectives and protecting human rights is proving very problematic at the present time. Although creating a uniform European asylum system throughout the European Union is a vital project, a significant number of Member States, such as the UK, remain cautious because of the extra cost involved, the administrative burden and their fear of creating a windfall effect for migrants.
What is the impact of the delay?
The proposals for a recast seem less ambitious than the first proposals made by the Commission in 2008. It should also be noted that this slowness entails significant expenditure at a time when there is a financial crisis and the 2014 European Parliament elections are on the horizon. These elections could have a significant impact if harmonisation is not completed by the time they take place. Nevertheless, it is not desirable that the MEPs give in to the pressure being placed on them by the schedule and the Member States, as they run the risk of sacrificing asylum seekers’ fundamental rights. The new system will only be beneficial if it includes real progress on protecting asylum seeker rights, as a mark of the Union’s desire to make a telling contribution on this issue.
What are the seven proposals for recasts of the directives and regulations?
- Proposed recast of the Dublin II regulation establishing the conditions for determining which Member State is responsible for examining an asylum application.
- Planned recast of the Eurodac Regulation, the system enables the Member States to identify asylum seekers and those who have illegally tried to cross one of the European Union’s external borders.
- Proposed recast of the Procedures Directive on minimum standards on procedures in Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status.
- Proposed recast of the Qualification Directive concerning the minimum standards with which third-country nationals and stateless persons need to comply in order to be entitled to international protection.
- Proposed recast of the Reception Directive with the aim being to address the poor conditions in which international protection applicants are received.
- Proposed recast of the European Refugee Fund for the 2008-2013 period regarding asylum, reception and voluntary repatriation initiatives.
- Planned recast of the Regulation on the creation of the European Asylum Support Office tasked with supporting practical cooperation on asylum.
What progress has been made on these proposals?
The Regulation relating to the creation of the European Asylum Support Office and the regulation concerning the European Refugee Fund were adopted in May 2010. The office has been operational in Malta since 17 June 2011. The deadlock in other negotiation processes is also starting to break. The Qualification Directive came into force in January 2012 and is awaiting transposition. The Civil Liberty, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) also reached an agreement on the recasts of the Reception Directive and Dublin II Regulation on 19 September 2012. Only two proposed recasts are now the subject of wider debate: the Procedures Directive and the Eurodac Regulation. Proposals are awaiting a first reading in the European Parliament on 12 March 2013.
Will the new system further protect asylum seekers’ rights and dignity?
The refusal by certain Member States to harmonise their legislation has an impact on fundamental rights. The widespread use of vague wording makes the standards rather opaque and insufficiently precise (use of the conditional and vague wording).
Are the proposals truly all-encompassing or are they in fact discriminatory?
Many opportunities for exemptions have been introduced on the grounds that implementing more stringent standards on respecting rights would be too costly. Giving the Member States too much leeway in this area creates a discriminatory system. Indeed, there are major differences from one country to the next in terms of the guarantees given to asylum seekers. Another potential source of discrimination: the Council is pressing for the so-called ‘safe’ countries of origin (the only countries to which asylum seekers can be deported) to be included on national lists. However, Hungary, for example, deports asylum seekers to Serbia. These national idiosyncrasies have no place in a common asylum system.
Is asylum seeker data protection at risk?
Under the proposals, the law enforcement agencies (the police and Europol) would have access to the Eurodac database in order to prevent, detect and investigate serious crime, with this access being worrying with regard to data protection. In response to the threat of bad practice, on 17 December 2012, the LIBE Committee voted in favour of stricter measures (giving asylum seekers information about data usage, storing information about each search for one month, etc). The proposal now needs to be approved by the Council.
The Qualification Directive is a milestone in that it now refers to the notions of ‘right of asylum’ and ‘refugee’, which are respectively enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugee status. This development is vital in the sense that these notions are diametrically opposed to State migration policy.
All of the issues highlighted deserve to be understood and require close monitoring.