In Italy, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, a radical populist, monopolized public attention with his almost daily attacks on immigrants. And the German colleague of Salvini – Horst Seehofer – provoked a crisis in the ruling coalition, demanding new measures against those asylum seekers who are trying to get to Germany from Austria.
Salvini and Seehofer argue that since no one helps their countries combat illegal immigration, they should focus on national rather than European solutions. But, as Daniel Gros, director of the Center for European Political Studies, writes in his article on Project Syndicate, they are very mistaken.
“In fact, the European Union played a huge role in reducing the flow of irregular migration, which decreased significantly compared to 2015, when Syrian refugees arrived in droves through Greece and Hungary. Thanks to the agreement reached between the EU and Turkey in March 2016, now only a few cross the sea to enter Greece. And the number of refugees arriving in Italy is now extremely small compared to even last year. On the whole, the number of cases of illegal crossing the borders of the EU countries decreased to about 100 thousand a year, while in 2015, according to estimates, more than a million people arrived in the EU in this way.
Since the EU population exceeds 500 million people, this figure looks completely manageable. But politicians continue to exploit the migration problem, and due to some particularly significant cases (especially due to the significant number of migrants who are being rescued off the coast of Libya) this topic is constantly appearing in the news.
However, the real problem that needs to be addressed is this: which country should be responsible for those who have already arrived in the EU. The EU’s inability to answer this question so that all parties are satisfied is now threatening the existence of the Schengen zone with its free crossing of the borders of its member countries.
On paper, the EU has clear rules in this regard. According to the so-called Dublin Regulation, the first EU country in which the asylum seeker enters is responsible for examining his application. Countries on the external borders of the EU, such as Greece and Italy, naturally complain that such a rule places an unjust burden on them.
But asylum seekers themselves also resist the observance of this rule. Given the unfavorable state of the labor market in the southern border countries, many immediately seek to enter northern Europe to apply for asylum there. That is why Germany, which has no external border, receives more asylum applications than Italy. At the same time, many of those who submit these applications have already been previously registered in the EU EURODAC refugee database.
According to the Dublin Regulation, Germany has the right to ask other EU countries to “take responsibility” (this is a legal term) in such cases. But there are many exceptions to the rule of the first country of entry. For example, if an asylum seeker has family members who already reside in another country (for example, Germany), then it is this other country that may be responsible for processing the application. Or, if the asylum seeker manages to leave the country of entry for a period of more than three months, then the initial application may be withdrawn, and a new application may be submitted in another EU country.
All of these exceptions give asylum seekers ample opportunity to challenge in court the transfer of their cases to other countries under the Dublin Regulation. In addition, national authorities have strong incentives to object to incoming requests to transfer cases on formal or real grounds, while they try to send as many people as possible to other countries. In 2017, 160 thousand requests for transfer of responsibility were submitted, but only 20 thousand of them were really satisfied. Such factors, along with differences in legal systems and administrative procedures in different EU countries, actually negate the Dublin Regulation.
It is these realities that underlie the current contradictions within the coalition government of Germany. Of the more than 60 thousand requests for transfer of responsibility submitted by the German authorities in 2017 in accordance with the Dublin Regulation, less than 15% were actually satisfied: only 7,100 cases were transferred to other EU countries.
At the same time, in 2016, Germany satisfied almost 30% of the 27 thousand incoming requests that it received, which means that it took responsibility for about 8700 people. Thus, despite the lack of external borders, Germany began to accept more people in the framework of Dublin transfers than it transfers to other countries.
That is why Seehofer wants to completely ban asylum seekers who have already been registered in the EURODAC system by other countries from entering Germany. But he is far from alone in his dissatisfaction: because of the discrepancy between legal principles and reality, not a single EU country is satisfied with the current system. Border countries continue to insist that the Dublin Regulation is unfair to them, and the northern EU countries complain that this regulation is not being properly observed.
The asylum system, in which the national bureaucracy of more than a dozen countries is trying to pass asylum-seekers to each other like hot potatoes, cannot work normally. The European Refugee Support Bureau (EASO) should become responsible for interpreting the rules for the distribution of refugees, deciding, for example, which country is responsible in cases where there is disagreement between them on specific cases. Providing financial incentives for accepting refugees, such as allocating a lump sum for each of them, can also be useful.
These two measures will not satisfy the populists. The fight against refugees and migrants (and even their demonization, as well as those who support them) is political bread and butter for populists. But strengthening EASO and expanding financial support will partly mitigate the current contradictions, at least until a program for a radical reform of the asylum system in Europe is developed. ”