On 16 November 2017, the European Parliament, at its Strasbourg session, gave the green light to enter into inter-institutional negotiations for the reform of the Dublin Regulation, i.e. Regulation no. 604 of 2013 “establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person”.

The decision, adopted by 390 votes in favour, 175 against and 44 abstentions, was added to the agenda since 88 members had requested a vote on the mandate, by midnight on Tuesday 14, pursuant to Art. 69c of the Rules of Procedure.

Indeed, on 19 October 2017, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) had already decided to enter into negotiations within the Council, approving, by 43 votes in favour and 16 against, the draft report presented by Cecilia Wikström (ALDE, SE) to reform the Dublin Regulation, the EU milestone establishing a common regulatory system for asylum application.

Pursuant to Article 80 of the TFEU, the policies on border checks, asylum and immigration – and their implementation – “shall be governed by the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility, including its financial implications, between the Member States”. However, it is plain to all that the Dublin system is completely inadequate, as it has not delivered a fair sharing of responsibilities among Member States. Indeed, the current Dublin regime is based on the principle that the Member State of first entry is, in most cases, the one responsible for asylum applications. Thus, in practice, it has created an inequal distribution of migrant flows across the Union.

While it did not take long for recent events to expose the cracks and failures in the Dublin system, the EU Institutions have been slow in responding to the dramatic “immigrant crisis”.

The proposal for the new Dublin regime aims to establish a proportionate allocation system for asylum seekers among Member States (the so called fairness mechanism), in compliance with the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility. In particular, the main proposals of the draft report approved by the Civil Liberties Committee provide for:

  • an automatic and permanent allocation system according to which asylum seekers, without a “genuine link” (i.e. family members, prior studies or residence) with a specific EU Country, will be allocated according to a “distribution key” – calculated on the basis of population size and GDP – to the Member State capable of receiving asylum applications at the relevant moment in time, in order to ensure fair and supportive cooperation among Member States. As a consequence, that Member State will be responsible for processing the asylum application. Thus, the State of first entry criterion will no longer apply;
  • the responsibility of the State of first entry for registration and preliminary security checks upon arrival as well as for processing, but at the expense of the Union, those applications with little chance of being accepted; the introduction of sanctioning mechanisms such as limitations to access to EU funds where Member States refuse to receive applicants in their territory and the non-application of the relocation mechanism for Countries of first entry which fail to register asylum seekers upon arrival; 
  • the Member State which decides to grant protection to the asylum seeker will be responsible for him/her for 5 years and the asylum seeker, in turn, in order to maintain refugee status, must remain in that Member State for 5 years, after which he/she may ask for a permanent residence permit;
  • simpler and faster procedures, a slimmer mechanism for family reunification, an allocation system based on refugees’ preferences, incentives, the chance to opt for allocation of groups, guarantees for children. Thus, the draft report approved by the LIBE Committee seeks to balance the need for a more stringent EU migration policy with refugees’ needs and rights and, at the same time, to avoid abuse of the system and prevent backlashes.

This first attempt to reform the cornerstone of EU migration policy is of crucial importance for the Union’s future, but it is too soon to jump to conclusions, since the legislative procedure is still in the making. Indeed, the recent approval of the draft report along with the vote on the mandate from the EU Parliament at the plenary sitting are at the very early stage of the complex and lengthy legislative process. Without doubt, the greatest difficulties will be encountered upon the final approval within the Council, which reflects Member States’ interests and manifesting, until now, diverging opinions far from the LIBE Committee’s point of view.