The real issue that needs to be resolved, however, is which country should be responsible for those who have already entered EU
territory. The EU’s failure to answer this question in a way that satisfies all sides is now threatening the survival of the Schengen Area of border-free travel.
On paper, the EU has clear rules on the matter: Under the so-called Dublin Regulation, the first EU country that asylum seekers enter is responsible for examining their applications. But countries with external borders, such as Greece and Italy, naturally complain that this puts an unfair burden on them.
Asylum seekers themselves also resist this rule. Given unfavourable labour-market conditions in southern border countries, many make a beeline for northern Europe to apply for asylum. That is why Germany, which has no external border, receives more asylum applications than Italy. Many such cases have already been registered on the EU asylum database EURODAC.
According to the Dublin Regulation, Germany has the right to ask other member states to “take charge” (the legal term) of these cases. But there are many exceptions to the first-country-of-arrival rule. For example, if an asylum seeker already has family in a different country (in this case, Germany), that country may be responsible for processing the application. Or if an asylum seeker manages to leave the country of arrival for three months, the initial application can be withdrawn and a new one submitted in a different EU member state.
These exceptions give asylum seekers ample room to contest Dublin transfers in court. Moreover, national authorities have a strong incentive to object to incoming transfer requests on formal or substantive grounds, while trying to send abroad as many as possible. About 160,000 “take charge” requests were lodged in 2017, though only about 20,000 were actually implemented. These factors, together with discrepancies among EU member states’ legal systems and administrative procedures, have largely nullified the Dublin Regulation.
It was this reality that lay at the root of recent tensions within Germany’s coalition government. Of more than 60,000 take-charge requests lodged by German authorities in 2017 under the Dublin Regulation, fewer than 15 per cent were actually implemented, resulting in just 7,100 transfers to other member states.
Yet in 2016, Germany implemented close to 30 per cent of the 27,000 incoming requests it received, meaning that it took charge of about 8,700 people. Germany has thus become a net recipient of Dublin transfers, despite lacking an external border.
Given this, Seehofer wants to prevent asylum seekers who have been registered elsewhere on EURODAC from ever entering Germany. But he is far from alone in his frustration: The upshot of the gulf between legal principles and reality is that no member state is satisfied with the current system. While border countries continue to insist that the Dublin Regulation is unfair to them, northern countries complain that it is not being implemented properly.
An asylum system in which more than a dozen national bureaucracies try to pass applicants around like hot potatoes cannot work. The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) should be made responsible for interpreting the rules for assigning refugees — deciding, for example, which country is responsible when member states disagree in individual cases. Providing financial incentives for accepting refugees — say, a lump sum for each one — would also help.
These two measures will not satisfy the populists. Opposition to refugees and migrants — and even demonisation of them and their supporters – is their political bread and butter. But strengthening EASO and boosting financial support should go some way toward alleviating today’s tensions, at least until a radical reform of Europe’s asylum system can be contemplated.
© 2018 Project Syndicate, 2018
Daniel Gros is Director of the Center for European Policy Studies.
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