The EU should “communitarize” asylum policy and refugee protection
by Prof. Matthias Lücke
Prof. Dr. Matthias Lücke is a Senior Researcher and Member of the Management Board at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. His research focuses on poverty reduction, equity, and development. For the Global Economic Symposium 2015, he is organizing the session ‘Migrants Knocking on Europe’s Doors: Towards a Coherent Response to Irregular Immigration.‘
Under present rules, EU member states on the external EU border are supposed to receive refugees and process their applications for asylum or other protection. This is not fair because it puts a large fiscal burden on a small number of member states (especially Italy, Greece, and Hungary) where most refugees do not even want to stay. It is also not working, as the large number of asylum seekers in other member states demonstrates.
A new, functional asylum system in Europe should be built around these features:
- All expenditures related to receiving refugees, processing their applications for protection, and facilitating their settlement in an EU member state (or return to their country of origin, as the case may be) should be borne directly by the EU budget, with additional EU tax revenues to be raised from member states.
- With centralized financing, the allocation of refugees to member states for eventual settlement will hopefully be less controversial, allowing the refugees’ wishes to be taken into account (which would facilitate their eventual social and economic integration).
- Refugees should not have to undertake a risky journey across the Mediterranean Sea to apply for asylum on EU territory. EU diplomatic missions in countries of origin and along transit routes should accept visa applications for the purpose of seeking protection in the EU (which is not possible now).
- To better address humanitarian crises like the war in Syria, the EU should work actively with countries in the affected region to support refugees as close to home as possible. In a crisis, neighboring countries almost invariably bear most of the cost of providing for refugees; the EU has the financial and organizational clout as well as a moral obligation to ease their burden.
Instead of a fundamental reform, the European Commission has recently proposed to transfer a limited number of refugees from Italy and Greece to other EU member states – based on quotas that would reflect member states’ per-capita income and labor market situation. If implemented, this process would send many refugees to member states where they would not want to stay because they would lack any family-based or cultural affinity that would facilitate integration. Furthermore, many EU member states have received so few immigrants in recent years that they lack the necessary administrative and social infrastructure to receive and integrate refugees.
In a similar vein, Hillel Rapoport and Jesus Fernández-Huertas Moraga have proposed a system of tradable refugee admission quotas for the EU. They aim to relate their proposed system to existing institutions and to take into account refugees’ preferences over destination countries as well as destination countries’ preferences over particular types of refugees. However, member states would remain individually responsible for funding the reception, processing, and eventual settlement of asylum seekers. Maybe more controversially, they would also have to agree on the initial allocation of refugees before quota trading could begin.
June 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the Schengen Treaty that started the opening of borders within the EU. As we enter the next phase of European integration, the EU should make a fresh start with a truly common asylum system and a comprehensive approach to assisting individuals afflicted by humanitarian crises in the EU neighborhood.
Esther Ademmer, Toman Barsbai, Matthias Lücke, Tobias Stöhr. “30 Years of Schengen. Internal blessing, external curse?” Kiel Policy Brief 88 (June 2015).