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17th Jan 2021

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Commission bins 'Dublin' asylum-reform proposal

  • The 'Dublin' regulation is one of seven EU legislative reforms that make up the Common European Asylum System (Photo: unsmil.unmissions.org)

Following years of deadlock among EU states, the European Commission is set to withdraw its 2016 proposal to reform the disputed asylum-regulation known as 'Dublin'.

The so-called Dublin regulation determines the member state responsible for processing asylum claims - and is supposed to halt 'asylum-shopping' by restricting applicants to their first country of entry.

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"We are in the post-Dublin horizon," Margaritis Schinas, the Greek commissioner in charge of migration under the "promoting our European way of life" portfolio, told EUobserver on Wednesday (19 February).

He said the bill, along with the Asylum Procedures Regulation, will have to be pulled from the wider package set to be announced at the end of March. Both currently figure among the seven pieces of legislation that make up the Common European Asylum System.

"We have two that have to be taken off and be repackaged, redrafted. One is the Dublin and the other is procedures," he said.

Schinas did not provide further details, but the move signals a shift in the commission's plan to overhaul internal EU asylum rules - amid promises of a new migration package by commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

In reality, the existing system has ground to a halt, with only around three percent of 'Dublin returns' executed EU-wide.

"It would be safe to suggest that there exists a variation in the manner in which the regulation is implemented by responsible Dublin units across the member states," said Markos Karavias, director of the Greek Asylum Service.

He said the regulation is putting undue pressure on entry states - noting that the bulk of Dublin requests in Greece involve family reunification.

Karavias also pointed out that the Greek island of Lesbos had seen 22,252 asylum applications in 2019 alone.

"If Lesbos was a sovereign member state, it would have roughly registered the tenth-highest number of applications among member states," he said.

Ralf Lesser, a senior official in Germany's Federal Ministry of the Interior, made similar comments, pointing out a widespread lack of cooperation among EU states.

"There a very different interpretations within the provision of the regulation," he said, noting only 8,500 people have been returned to a member state from Germany, from among its 49,000 Dublin requests.

Mandatory quotas

The commission's original proposal to overhaul the rules in 2016 failed to convince dissenting EU states such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

The core contention in that overhaul was the automated distribution of asylum-seekers across EU states in case of sudden large inflows, similar to the some one million people that arrived in 2015.

Most at that time went to Germany, with others heading to Sweden.

That saga helped instigate a lock-down as half a dozen EU states imposed internal border control checks to prevent onward migratory movements - casting a long shadow over the EU's cherished passport-free Schengen zone.

A handful of EU presidencies have since attempted to balance concepts like responsibility and solidarity in an effort to break the internal deadlock. But they too failed.

For its part, the European Parliament had endorsed the bill, but expanded it to include mandatory quotas and threatened to reduce EU funding access to member states who failed to adhere to the rules.

That position obtained a two-thirds plenary majority in 2017, the support of the main political groups, representing some 220 political parties.

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