EU – Dublin Regulation and the new migration plan

In her ambitious State of the Union speech address, on 16 September 2020, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen presented her  vision for the future of Europe. With her message of unity, the President explained that the next objective for the EU is to emerge from the pandemic and lead the way towards a new vitality.

In her light, the EU should put aside its fragility and uncertainties, many of which are given by the coronavirus, and, on the contrary, look for change and innovations. Thanks to the new plan, called NextGenerationEU, and the right investment for it, the EU will work to become green, digital and more resilient. For what regards the migration, the European Commission will focus on taking a new approach, remaining always vigilant on the rule of law and fighting for a union with no racism and discrimination. Declaring once again the migration as a fundamental European challenge, von der Leyen reminds the Member States the importance of doing everyone its own part to rebuild the trust among them and move forward all together. In particular, President von der Leyen announced a special program with new migration policies, based on a strong human approach. She said that the European Commission will put soon forward its New Pact on Migration, with a strong approach based on solidarity, but at the same time it will provide undoubtedly for a clear distinction between those who have the right to enter and stay in Europe and those who have not such right. Initially, the European Commission had scheduled to present this new migration pact just at the end of September, but after the tragic fire in Moria, the largest refugee camp on Greece’s Lesbos island (where live around 14’000 refugees, even if it would be suitable only for 3’000), the news has been anticipated to give some new guarantees on the issue of migration. So, the President spent some more words on the incident, admitting that this event will represent for the European Commission its next point of departure. The Commission will step in and take the due responsibility to solve the difficult situation. Consequently, von der Leyen already reaffirmed the plan of building a new camp co-administered by the EU as a pilot project. The New Migration Plan will reform part of the Dublin Regulation, which determines mainly which country is responsible for an asylum seeker’s application. The Dublin Regulation was established in 1990 and has been reformed twice, recently in 2013. Generally speaking, under the current rules of the Dublin Regulation, intended to prevent migrants from lodging multiple asylum requests in Europe, the member state, is responsible for its claim. The first countries process the asylum requests, while the refugees stay in a reception center and cannot move on. As a result, the EU member states on the blocs’ external border are overburdened and refugees’ camps are full of migrants, who often flee away without a trace to neighboring states. On this regard, President von der Leyen clearly expressed that the Dublin Regulation will be abolished and will be replaced with a new European migration governance system. The New Migration Pact will have common structures for asylum and return policies and will have a new strong solidarity mechanism. It will consist of five regulations and a political text.

The aim of the new plan is to redistribute the migratory flows, which until now have weighted almost entirely on the territories, where migrants first arrived, namely the Mediterranean countries and partly also in East of Europe. For this reason, the plan will focus on a new fair and obligatory mechanism for the distribution of migrants among all EU States, no matter the country where the asylum seeker first arrived. In addition, the protection of external borders will be strengthened and new legal routes to Europe will be created in order to fight people smugglers. Thanks to the plan, Member states will also work to get more streamlined procedures to speed up the return of those, who are not entitled to remain in the EU. They will be allowed to stay just a few months. Of course the EU must cooperate with the countries of origin and transit, to combat organizations of illegal migration and to conclude readmission agreements for the migrants. Further, part of the reform will also cover legal immigration. Its regulation must be improved through for example wider humanitarian corridors, new direct calls, and student permits. Finally, the President called again the Member states to rescue the refugees from distress at sea, because that is part of the migration policy.

In the next few weeks, following the State of the Union 2020, the plan will be introduced and more about it will be revealed. Anyway, the Plan must still be heavily debated, and the Council must negotiate for it. Negotiations will be quite complex, in particular because of the principle of compulsory solidarity, that Member States should accept. In this respect, von der Leyen admitted that also Germany was pushing to get successful results on the issue of migration. Besides, after the incident in Moria (Greece), Germany decided to welcome at least 1’500 unaccompanied minors. The Dublin Regulation has long been a controversial topic in the EU. Member States were waiting for such a reform since long time, which instead has continuously been postponed. Many attempts to reform the EU distribution system failed, mainly because of the opposition of Eastern European governments. The current Dublin system has multiplied over time  tensions between the Member States and has given rise to internal frictions. Since the migration crisis in 2015, the number of people arriving in Europe has decreased, but the political deflagration continued. It has always been obvious that the Dublin Pact was rather a failure, because it has never been fully accepted by all Member States, but at the same time it was difficult to redefine the rules. Already in 2015, the ex- President of the Commission Juncker had announced the same reform for the Dublin Regulation, which then did not occur. France and Germany described then the system as obsolete, because no result could be achieved. Now, France and Germany reintervene urging the other EU members to show more solidarity and said that the Greek incident demonstrated the urgent need to find a common answer to the migratory question. The Dublin Regulation has been also much criticized by politicians from the EU border states and refugees’ advocates. Southern EU border states, like Italy and Greece, have always been under pressure, because of the emergency situation given by the many arrivals of third nationals. They have long complained that the Dublin Regulation has forced them to process the bulk of asylum claims, while northern and non-border EU states were responsible for less claims. Nevertheless, Europe has tried in the mean time to work with a quota system to redistribute migrants among the EU member countries, but this has never been so successful as expected, because it never moved indeed the 160’000 people originally agreed on. Of course, there have been different reactions from the Euro-MP’s to von der Leyen’s announcement, and probably the mandatory relocation calculated in the new reform will still stay a point of contention among the Member States. That’s why the Commission does not exclude to propose a kind of compromise stating that who does not accept its share of migrants, will take care of the costs of repatriation of those who do not have the right to asylum or a legal residence permit. In particular, the far-right Identity and Democracy group, as well as the members of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, responded to von der Leyen’s remarks and plans. Jorg Meuthen, a member of the EU Parliament from Germany’s far-right AfD party, accused the President of the EU Commission, Mrs. von der Leyen, to misunderstand actually the meaning of her role. He criticized she should not act as being the head of state of a single country, what she maybe would wish to be. Similarly, the Visegrad Group is expected again to reiterate their opposition to obligatory relocation, what will make negotiations tougher. On the other side, the New Pact of Migration is defended more by the alliance of countries, which are located at the frontline of the migration development (Italy, Greece, Spain, Malta and Cyprus) They promote common positions on migration and push at most for a tangible solidarity referring actually to the mandatory relocation across the EU. However, the different disagreements among the EU states will lead probably to an alternative solution. For example, countries that do not wish to host refugees will prefer to return the migrants that are not eligible for asylum in Europe to their country of origin.