Ahead of the 2019 European Elections, French President Emmanuel Macron declared the need for a ‘European Renewal’ in the context of the Migrant Crisis and the rise of Euroscepticism. While Macron’s European Renaissance outlines many ambitious proposals, one arrangement to tackle European migration, namely the creation of a Common Border Force and a European Asylum Office, must be evaluated. This article argues that Macron’s call for a Common Border Force fails to address issues of migration and Euroscepticism. While the initiative proposes an alternative to the Dublin Regulation, it neglects the concerns of Central European member states regarding migration as well as Eurosceptics’ fear of the increasing jurisdiction of the European Union (EU) over National Parliaments.
In 2015, more than a million migrants entered Europe through Mediterranean crossings, mostly in Italy and Greece. This unprecedented influx of migrants exposed the inefficiency of the EU’s asylum system, the Dublin Regulation (hereafter Dublin). This system stipulates that the first member state the asylee enters is responsible for processing their application. Dublin was intended to prevent ‘asylum shopping’, in which asylees make multiple applications across EU countries.
One critique of Dublin is that the responsibility of asylum-processing falls disproportionately on the ‘frontier states’ (primarily Italy and Greece). Another critique maintains that Dublin has not prevented ‘asylum shopping’, but only resulted in illegal movements across the Schengen Area to wealthier countries such as Germany or the Benelux. For instance, of the 170,000 Mediterranean arrivals in Italy in 2014, only 64,625 sought asylum in their first point of entry.
Plans to modify existing asylum arrangements, such as a ‘refugee quota’ to redistribute migrants equally among all EU members, have only been met with hostility. Central and Eastern European states’ opposition to ‘forced quotas’ has resulted in the resurgence of ‘internal borders’ within the Schengen Area and battles between Eastern Europe and the European Court of Justice over migrant quotas.
Academics have described the allocation of asylum-seekers as the ‘most polarising issue’ in European politics, and polls only reinforce the importance of immigration in the European political system. The rise of Eurosceptic parties and figures as a result of the Migrant Crisis, such as the Alternative for Deutschland and Italy’s Matteo Salvini, only display the existential threat of this problem to the European Project. With the refugee quota system rejected, replacing Dublin has, again, become a priority for the European political system.
A European Common Border Force
Macron asserts that his alternative of a ‘rethinking of Schengen’ is necessary for Europe. Member states participating in this ‘rethinking’ would comply with harmonised ‘stringent border controls’ and adopt a ‘single asylum policy’ with common acceptance and refusal procedures under the central authority of a European Asylum Office. Measures to create a uniform asylum system have been tabled in the Lisbon Treaty (2008) with the intent of increasing ‘minimum standards’ to ‘common standards’ under the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), though progress in establishing this is limited. Macron’s op-ed also calls for the creation of a European Border Force under the authority of a European Council for Internal Security’ to protect external Schengen borders.
This proposal is not unprecedented. The European Commission has indicated in several reports that a reform of CEAS is necessary, primarily through ‘uniform regulations’ and ‘convergence’. In particular, it has called for the establishment of common procedure with common definitions of ‘safe countries’ and ‘simple procedures’ to displace the ‘disparate regulations’ currently in place. The European Border Force is arguably a more interesting proposal as it involves a radical change from current provisions. Rather than expanding the European Border and Coast Guard Agency’s mission of ‘supporting member states external borders’, Macron is essentially calling for Brussels to manage external borders.
Proposals of ‘uniform regulations’ and a common border police is an attractive alternative to Dublin. Establishing centralised asylum procedures may eradicate illegal movements by allowing asylees to apply in their country of choice and alleviating pressure on ‘frontier states’. A common border police could also lead to greater efficiency in clamping down on migrant smuggling in the Mediterranean.
Critiques – A Western European Border Force?
However, proponents of Macron’s ‘rethinking of Schengen’ fail to consider questions of implementation. The proposal of establishing a Common Asylum System and Border Force mandates the surrender of national power over migration to an EU institution, and is therefore unlikely to be accepted by all member states.
For the ‘rethinking of Schengen’ to be a practical replacement for Dublin, Macron must consider the position that all member states hold. Eastern European states, who value territorial sovereignty at all costs, have previously displayed unwillingness to partake in a proposed Common Asylum System and Border Force. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, in response to a proposal for a European border force of 10,000 personnel, declared that such procedures would ‘strip nation states of their right to defend their borders’, asserting that migration issues should not be decided at the EU level. Furthermore, a number of other Eastern European member states such as Poland and the Czech Republic have also rejected these initiatives, citing the opportunity costs of EU funding. Expansion of current border protection initiatives, Poland’s Premier argued, would mean fewer funds for important economic development schemes.
In response, Macron argues that compliance with his initiatives should only apply to ‘those who want to be part of it’. Yet, if the Common Asylum System and Border Force is structured on a voluntary basis, the question of practicality then warrants consideration. The rise of Eurosceptic and nationalist parties in member states such as Italy, with Salvini’s bid to refuse access to NGO ships, and Austria, with Sebastian Kurz pledging tougher border controls, displays the unlikelihood of member states’ participation in Macron’s proposal. This would mean that the responsibility would, again, fall on a few select Western European states such as Spain, France, or Germany, hence reproducing the issues resulting from Dublin.
The difficulty of providing an efficient replacement for the Dublin Regulation lies not only in the magnitude of the Migrant Crisis, but also in reconciling values of humanitarianism with the national interests of member states. With concerns of sovereignty becoming ever more prevalent in European politics and member states withdrawing their support for a unified response to the Migrant Crisis, it is highly unlikely that Macron’s proposal will provide a practical replacement for Dublin.
Ryan Chan is a member of the European Affairs policy centre’s working group.
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