Reforming asylum and migration policies in Europe: attitudes, realism and values
Title: Reforming asylum and migration policies in Europe: attitudes, realism and values
Series/Number: EUI RSCAS PP; 2019/13; Special Edition for the EP Elections 2019
Four years after the effective collapse of the EU’s common asylum system, member states remain deeply divided about how to reform and rebuild Europe’s asylum, refugee and migration policies. Although the number of new asylum applications in the EU has declined sharply over the past two years – from 1.2 million in both 2015 and 2016 to 0.6 million in 2017 and 0.46 million in 2018 (Jan-Sep) – asylum and immigration have remained highly salient and controversial issues in the domestic politics of many EU member states. There has also been a marked and much publicised increase in support for anti-immigration parties. While, as we show, it would be mistaken to assume that a rising tide of anti-immigration sentiment is sweeping across Europe, it is entirely plausible to imagine that the probable low turnout at the 2019 European Parliament election could bring a cohort of MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg keen to take an even tougher line on asylum, refugees and migration. Indeed, the idea that EP elections would one day become transnational contexts in which issues of pan-European concern were discussed and debated might be realised. However, it was probably not expected that immigration would be the issue, and neither that the parties most keen to debate on this issue would often link their opposition to immigration with a degree of Euroscepticism. EU debates about common asylum and migration policy reforms have been highly acrimonious and deeply divisive, with little apparent consensus on anything other than the lowest common denominator of a need for greater border control. Some member states see the solution to the immigration challenge as lying in ‘more Europe’ (e.g. through a centralisation of the EU asylum system) and ‘greater solidarity’ between member states (e.g. through a redistribution of refugees across countries), whereas others appear to have given up waiting for EU policy reform and instead have pursued national or trans-national policy responses, involving just a few ‘like-minded’ EU member states (e.g. the joint measures by Austria and nine Balkan states in 2016 to help ‘close down’ the ‘western Balkan route,’ and proposals by Austria and Denmark to severely limit the right to apply for asylum in Europe). This has further deepened divisions and raised profound questions, not only about the meaning of ‘solidarity’ in Europe but also about the future of the EU and its ability to find common ground on a fundamental and, some would argue, existential policy challenge. Given the disagreements among EU member states about the large number of proposals that have been made over the past few years, we argue that the first step toward facilitating reform is not another ‘better’ proposal, but discussion and agreement on the basic principles behind the EU’s common asylum and migration policies. If countries do not agree on the basic principles underlying and guiding policy reform, there can be no hope of finding effective and sustainable common policies. We suggest that the principles behind EU asylum, refugee and migration policies need to speak to three fundamental issues: (i) a better understanding of public attitudes; (ii) greater realism; and (iii) more clarity about the fundamental values guiding policy reform.
Subject: Asylum; Migration; Europe
Type of Access: openAccess