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MEMO/08/403

Brussels, 17 June 2008

Questions and Answers on the Policy Plan on Asylum

What has been done so far at EU level in the area of asylum policy?

In 1999 the EU Heads of State and Government meeting in Tampere called for the establishment of a Common European Asylum System. Since then, asylum has been considered an issue to be tackled at EU level. Indeed, in a Union with no borders, it makes sense to harmonise conditions for asylum seekers and avoid that one country is seen as more attractive than others. This will reduce unwarranted secondary movements; asylum seekers will no longer have the impression that some Member States have a more generous - or restrictive - attitude than others.

During the first phase of the establishment of the Common European Asylum System (1999-2005) an important number of legislative measures harmonising common minimum standards in the area of asylum were adopted. The four more important legislative instruments are without doubt the Directive on Reception Conditions for asylum-seekers, the Directive on the Qualifications for becoming a refugee or a person needing international protection; the Asylum Procedures Directive, and the so-called 'Dublin II' Regulation, which determines which Member State is responsible for examining an asylum application. Another Directive has created a framework for offering temporary protection in case of mass influx of displaced persons. Financial solidarity between the Member States was also promoted with the establishment of the European Refugee Fund, which later became an inspiration for developing other financial instruments in the immigration and borders area.

What is the current situation concerning asylum in the EU? Trends and problems

The main factors driving people out of their home countries and forcing them to seek protection elsewhere are political instability, lack of respect for human rights, poor rule of law, undemocratic regimes, wars and civil conflicts. Although most refugees remain in the region close to their countries of origin, many seek protection in the EU. In 2007 approximately 220.000 people applied for asylum in the EU. This historically low figure nevertheless represents an increase by 12% compared to 2006.

[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]

A number of problems have been identified in the area of asylum:

  • Divergent national practices lead to extreme differences as to the recognition of the right of protection and cause inequalities in the level of protection across the EU;
  • Secondary movements (asylum-seekers moving from one Member State to another one) and 'asylum-shopping' (multiple asylum applications) result in an unfair strain on some national administrations and on the asylum seekers themselves;
  • The asylum systems of some Member States are overburdened, due to geographical and other reasons;
  • Legitimate measures against irregular immigration (e.g. reinforced border controls and stricter visa requirements) may in certain cases hamper access to protection in the EU;
  • Third countries in the developing world shoulder too heavy a burden when it comes to refugee flows and need support.

The existing common minimum standards for asylum, agreed at EU level, leave a wide margin of discretion to the Member States as to their application. This does not guarantee equality of protection across the EU.

Why is the Commission presenting a Policy Plan on Asylum?

The Hague Programme, agreed in November 2004 by the Heads of State and Government, called for the establishment of the second phase of the Common European Asylum System, during which, among other objectives, a common procedure, a uniform status for protected persons, more practical cooperation between the Member States' administrations and an increased support to third countries hosting large refugee populations should be achieved.

The Policy Plan adopted today sets clearly the direction the Commission wishes to give to the future asylum policy of the European Union. It is based on the goals of the Hague Programme, as well the main orientations identified during the consultation process launched by a Green Paper in June 2007.[1] The document lists all the measures the Commission intends to take in the coming years in order to complete the second phase of the Common European Asylum System but it does not contain the precise proposals, which will presented between this year and 2010.

The provisions of the Geneva Convention on Refugees and the full respect of the Charter of Fundamental Rights will be a constant reference for any measure to be proposed by the Commission.

Which principles should guide asylum policy in the EU?

The Commission believes that the following principles should guide the EU's asylum policy:

  • Uphold the Union's humanitarian and protection tradition and ensure respect of fundamental rights;
  • Establish a level playing field where all asylum seekers will have access to a high lever of protection under the same conditions, wherever in the EU they make their asylum claim;
  • Enhance the efficiency of the asylum system: Member States should be provided with tools which increase the efficiency of their decision making systems;
  • Provide solidarity within and outside the Union: it is essential to support those Member States which have more pressures on their systems, as well as helping countries outside the EU which host large numbers of refugees.

What types of measures are proposed in the Policy Plan?

The measures proposed in the Policy Plan are grouped around three pillars:

  1. Reaching better quality and enhanced harmonisation of standards of international protection by further alignment of Member States' asylum legislation. This will require amendments to the three most important EU asylum directives: dealing with reception conditions for asylum seekers, asylum procedures and standards for qualification as refugees or persons needing international protection.
  2. Effective and well supported practical cooperation. This will be ensured through the establishment of a European Asylum Support Office that will consolidate all activities related to practical cooperation in the area of asylum: country of origin information, training, common curriculum, asylum expert teams, etc.
  3. Higher degree of solidarity and responsibility among Member States, as well as between the EU and third countries. Internally, solidarity mechanisms between the Member States will be proposed, in order to offer adequate support to the Member States whose system is overburdened; existing EU instruments such as the Dublin Regulation and EURODAC (a system allowing comparison of fingerprints in order to assist Member States in the identification of asylum applicants) will be amended to make them more effective. The external aspects of asylum policy are reflected in proposals aimed at alleviating asylum pressure in third countries: Regional Protection Programmes, Resettlement and Protected Entry Procedures. Resettlement, in particular, consists of receiving in the EU refugees who are hosted in countries of first asylum but who do not have a perspective for a durable solution there.

When will these proposals take effect?

Most of the legislative proposals described will be made by the European Commission in the second half of 2008 and during 2009, with a few being presented in 2010. The proposals will be negotiated by qualified majority voting in the Council and co-decision with the European Parliament, which will ensure democratic control.

Based on the experience gained in the negotiations of the first phase, it is to be expected that negotiations on the new proposed initiatives will take some time, after which the normal transposition period (2 years) will be allowed. However, certain non-legislative measures could be adopted and implemented more quickly, especially those regarding practical cooperation between national asylum administrations, or external aspects of the asylum policy.

In the meantime, existing EU measures in the area of asylum must continue to be correctly implemented by Member States. The European Commission will closely monitor that Member States fully respect their obligations under the existing asylum acquis.


[1] COM (2007) 301, also see IP 07/768 and MEMO 07/229


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