EU refugee quotas: Any lessons learned?

While we probably need some burden sharing system regarding refugees what are the lessons learned from this relative failure of migrant quotas for the future of solving refugee crisis and changing the EU asylum system? Read few comments.

Christian KaunertAcademic Director, Professor of European Politics, Institute for European Studies

Indeed, it is fair to say that refugee quotas don’t work in the current set up. In my view, this is because of the flaws in the Dublin system, I.e. The system that states that refugees have to apply for asylum in the first EU member state that they enter. This principle ensures that the refugee system as a whole cannot easily cope with higher numbers of applicants because the burden falls disproportionately on southern countries like Italy or Greece. In turn, this provides incentives for them to cheat the system because it is perceived as unfair to them, which in turn leads to potentially chaotic flows.

In my view, the Dublin system is in urgent need of reform, and, only then, can one reform the system of refugee quotas as they are logically linked to the Dublin system. I think that might be a good option to scrap that rule and replace it with a system that does not rely on spontaneous arrivals. At the moment, only refugees that enter the territory of the EU can apply for refugee status. If we change that system and allow applications in EU embassies outside of the EU territory, we will automatically reduce the flows across the Mediterranean because they are no longer necessary. We could also introduce more humanitarian visas in order to stop those flows and manage them before people set off on their journey. But these are radical options that are unlikely to be discussed yet, perhaps we will need a few more crises before then!

Anna VisviziHead of Research, Institute of East-Central Europe (IESW), Assistant Professor, DEREE-The American College of Greece

The 2015 Member States’ Support to Emergency Relocation Mechanism instrument has grown into an exponential item of the EU level discourse on migration. In this context, the Visegrad Group (V4) countries’ stance opposing the quotas (see Pachocka, 2016 for details), made quite a stirr. As the relocation scheme draws to an end, it is useful to see what lessons can be drawn from it.

Clearly, an effective mechanism is needed aimed at alleviating migration-inflicted pressures that Greece and Italy, but also Malta, have faced over the past few years.  As ever, nevertheless, in matters that concern, on the one hand, frequently inter-subjective concerns that the receiving societies face and, on the other hand, very tangible concerns that respective state authorities identify (see Visvizi, Mazzucelli, Lytras, 2017), particular attention needs to be paid to the communication process. Poland and Greece offer in this case very interesting insights into this issue.

Over 1 million migrants arrived in Greece since 2015. Today, about 70.000 of them are stranded in hot spots and reception centres across Greece. From a different angle, in line with provisions of the Member States’ Support to Emergency Relocation Mechanism reached in 2015, Poland was committed to accept 6,182 individuals subject to the relocation scheme (EU, 2017). As of June 29, 2017, these commitments have not been abided by, and the European Commission launched an infringement procedure (EU, 2017b).  What have we learned?

Poland is not a stranger when it comes to accepting and welcoming refugees and migrants; over the past years mostly from Chechnya, Ukraine, but also from Vietnam and other countries. The tragic developments in neighbouring Ukraine and the resulting wave of migration, showed that the Polish society can express its empathy and solidarity with people in need. Similarly, at the level of policy-making, decisions were taken aimed at facilitating the influx of Ukrainians to Poland as the war in Ukraine raged, however….

The migration and refugee crises that peaked in 2015-2016 and placed in the spotlight Greece, the Balkans and eventually Hungary, did not influence Poland directly. As a result, the connection between the migration and refugee crises and the EU mandatory relocation scheme was not obvious at first to large parts of the Polish society. The way the scheme was communicated to the societies across the EU, including Poland, did not help in improving the citizens’ understanding of its relevance either. References to ‘European solidarity’ were in this context pre-mature and misplaced. Had they been preceded by a more thorough debate, confusion and unnecessary tension related to the prospect of receiving refugees under the relocation scheme would have been easily avoided. The case of Poland attests to that.

The case of Greece seems to confirm the same, but from a different perspective. I.e. the hands-on dramatic experiences that the Greek society endured over the crisis, made it kind of obvious that a relocation scheme was needed. Still, also here, no explicit attempt of explaining/communicating the strategy has been undertaken. As a result, an unhealthy impression was created among many members of the Greek society that e.g. Poland, or the V4 countries overall, were unwilling to assist Greece, and that they were lacking on solidarity.

To recap, when reflecting on the EU mandatory relocation scheme the key issue should be taken into account is that of political communication and dialogue. Due to a lack of an effective communication strategy, the EU relocation scheme turned into a source of contention across the EU member-states and exacerbated respective societies’ attitudes to migration thus increasing their sensitivity to manipulation. From a different vantage point, political communication played a role in exacerbating several member-states’ valid concerns that the relocation scheme, initially conceived as mechanism of assisting refugees, would in fact turn into a mechanism of bypassing immigration policy of the EU member-states. These two issues led to an explosive mix. If we want to draw lessons from the EU relocation scheme, these two issues have to be placed on to agenda of an EU wide debate on migration and immigration policy.

Giacomo Orsini, Senior Research Officer, Department of Sociology, University of Essex

in general I would say that the recent failure of migrants quota brings to the surface the ill-design of the policy. In practice, (a) only few of those reaching the shores of Italy and Greece have the nationality to be relocated, (b) only few relocation take actually place and, (c), there seems to be people who would fit for relocation who purposely do not apply for it (declaring false nationality) to remain outside the relocation system. This is because the policy is ill-designed, as there is no actual will to relocate. Northern European countries wait for Italy and Greece to upgrade their asylum systems and host a similar amount of asylum seekers per capita (today Southern European countries host much less refugees compared to countries such as for instance the Netherlands or Germany). Yet, even asylum seekers don’t want to be relocated, as they have their own migratory projects and often have networks of relatives and/or friends to rely on and that are waiting for them. Here, once again, the opportunity has been missed to reduce the social, political, financial and human costs of this approach to the management of migration and asylum: that was, to manage these relatively small inflows of people (remember always that the vast majority of unauthorized migrants in Europe has entered with regular visa and overstayed).

I have also also asked Steve PeersProfessor, School of Law, University of Essex and Henri de Waele, Full Professor of International and European Law, Faculty of Law, Radboud University Nijmegen about their opinions as the Advocate General proposes  that the Court should dismiss the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary against the provisional mechanism for the mandatory relocation of asylum seeker.

The Advocate-General’s opinion (which is not yet a binding ruling from the judges) is not surprising, as a number of lawyers thought that the challenge to the EU quota law would not be successful. Since the cases mainly concern a temporary system, however, Hungary and other countries might still keep objecting separately to a more permanent system of relocating asylum-seekers, as the Commission has proposed. In any event, the Court’s eventual ruling cannot alter the fact that the quota system has not worked as planned, with only a small minority of asylum seekers actually relocated to other Member States.

Indeed, in general the conclusion of Advocate General Bot does not strike one as entirely surprising, and in legal circles, the Court of Justice is also expected to come up with a like-minded judgment later this year. A number of the arguments advanced by Hungary and Slovakia already seemed flawed from the outset, at least when evaluated by experienced lawyers (take for example, the applicants’ claim that the decision challenged was in fact a ‘disguised legislative act’, when no such concept exists and flies in the face of the EU treaty system). Some other objections however might be called rather bold and creative; in secondary school terms, one would say “full points for effort” here. In particular, Hungary and Slovakia were not wrong to point to the amendments made to the initial Commission proposal in the contested decision, and the latter does remain rather vulnerable in that regard. To my mind A-G Bot is not entirely convincing in his vindication of the eventual decision on the basis of the fact that the Commission did not object to those amendments, and the Court may have to find a better, more convincing way around this issue. As regards the point raised by the applicants on the limited efficacy of the measures, I’m a bit surprised it is considered in much detail. At heart it appears unfit to be evaluated from a legal perspective, due to a lack of proper standards and benchmarks (it is more of a public administration exercise). Still, the rebuttal of the A-G does prove appropriate and sufficient – and in this respect, perhaps the ‘original sin’ lies with the applicant countries that decided to bring a principally political quarrel into the courtroom. Though not impeccable, the Council decision setting up the provisional relocation system should be able withstand the critical scrutiny, and will probably pass muster as well in the eyes of the EU judiciary.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: