Florian Trauner explains why the likely adoption of a new European pact on migration and asylum is unlikely to end competition between member states to accommodate fewer asylum seekers.
In modern societies, competition is generally viewed positively. Competition means surpassing your competitors and striving for victory. But competition can also go wrong. One such case is competition among EU member states to accommodate fewer asylum seekers.
States on the EU’s external borders receive a disproportionately higher number of arrivals than other member states due to air travel difficulties for people without legal papers. During the first six months of 2023, almost half of all detections of irregular crossings at EU borders were made on the central Mediterranean route to Italy. The arrival of 10,000 migrants in Lampedusa in one week was highly publicized. event in September 2023.
More than a million asylum applications are expected in the EU in 2023, with Syrians and Afghans making the highest number of applications. Southern European EU member states are reluctant to take responsibility for newly arrived migrants and have long called for more solidarity and cooperation in this area. While the EU has operated a “common European asylum system” since 2013, member states are currently not legally obliged to receive asylum seekers from their southern or eastern neighbors at the EU’s external border. the EU. EU rules, as they exist, primarily aim to clarify the distribution of responsibilities and ensure comparable asylum procedures and standards.
Faced with strong migratory pressures and the rise of anti-immigration parties, this system proved unsuitable. Member states have started (informally) to compete with each other on how to reduce the number of asylum applications they receive.
EU rules have been extended, reinterpreted or openly ignored. States at the EU’s external borders Italy, Greece and Spain in particular have often refrained from registering newly arrived migrants. If these migrants then move further north, these states absolve themselves of responsibility for their asylum requests. In reaction, five member states of the Schengen area (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Norway) have reintroduced permanent border controls among their EU neighbors.
States can also restrict access to national asylum procedures to deter migrants from coming. Hungary, for example, legally requires migrants to declare their intention to seek asylum at consulates in neighboring countries. Migrants already present in Hungary must therefore leave. Other Eastern European Member States have also used emergency legislation justify national exemptions from EU asylum rules.
THE de facto Competition between Member States has led to widely divergent numbers of asylum applications. According to Eurostat, Cyprus had 25 asylum applications per 1,000 inhabitants in 2022, the highest number in the EU. Austria comes in second place with 12.5 applications. At the other end of the spectrum, Hungary had 0.0 asylum applications per 1,000 inhabitants in 2022. In absolute numbers, Hungary had 45 asylum applications for a population of almost 10 million. The sharing of positive decisions the total number of asylum decisions in the EU was 40% in 2022. Yet here again there are large divergences – the likelihood of obtaining protected status varying between nationalities depending on where they apply for asylum. For example, Afghans had a recognition rate of 70% in France at the start of 2023, while it was only 28% in Belgium.
After eight years of negotiations, the reform of the EU’s asylum policy is now on the verge of success. Member States have agreed on a common position and a compromise is currently being finalized with the European Parliament. However, the new Pact will not lead to a fully supranational policy, such as common EU asylum procedures. Member states will still decide whether an asylum application is approved, although standards and procedures will be more closely regulated.
It is important to note that Member States have opposed greater the ambitious projects of the European Commission to relocate asylum seekers. The current proposal provides for only a modest EU-wide relocation quota of around 30,000 people per year. The obligation to relocate asylum seekers within the EU can be avoided entirely if Member States provide other support, including financial contributions to the EU asylum system.
The new pact focuses on what will happen directly at or near the EU’s external border. Member states are supposed to be given greater leeway for restrictive measures, for example accelerated border procedures and more systematic detention of certain groups of migrants. When migrants have transited or come from a third country considered “safe”, they can be returned more quickly to that country. Member states may also have the discretion to deviate from normal asylum rules if a third party government “instrumentalizes” migration for political purposes, or if numbers increase to a level perceived as a “crisis.” “.
The return of more migrants arriving irregularly or under false claims for protection is at the heart of this strategy. Yet the EU may not be able to achieve this goal. In a recently published study, we looked at the rate at which the EU returned irregular migrants to third countries over an 11-year period. With a few exceptions in the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe, the return rate to the EU has declined since 2008 – even though the EU has signed a whole list of formal and informal readmission agreements with countries third party.
The strategy proposed by the member states for the Pact will therefore be difficult to achieve. Fewer (undocumented) migrants will be allowed to enter; if they nevertheless manage to come, they will be processed quickly and close to the external border – and then quickly returned if necessary. In this case – and only in this case – the pressures on Member States’ asylum systems will likely decrease.
However, the EU remains ill-equipped to deal with the alternative – and more likely – scenario. The number of new arrivals remains high, border procedures are slow and the reception capacities of (some) Member States are under strain. The return of rejected asylum seekers is occurring in lower numbers than the EU hoped for.
In this scenario, Member States will likely (continue to) engage in restrictive national practices in order to encourage asylum seekers to travel to their neighbors. Even if the EU’s asylum policy requires more cooperation, competition is likely to remain a dominant element.
By Professor Florian Traunervice-dean for research at the Brussels School of Governance, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), and co-director of the VUB Center for Interdisciplinary Expertise on Migration and Minorities (BIRMM).