The European Union's executive floated options Wednesday aimed at making the bloc's asylum system fairer and more harmonized.
The existing so-called Dublin rules, under which asylum seekers must file their claims in the first EU state they reach, failed last year to cope with an inflow of more than 1 million people into Europe.
The European Commission is expected to present legislative proposals in the coming months.
It is envisaging the following reforms:
- Option 1: Dublin-Plus
The Dublin system could remain in place, but with an additional "corrective fairness mechanism" that kicks in when a member state is overburdened by a "large and disproportionate inflow" of migrants or asylum seekers.
Once a predefined threshold of asylum applications is reached in the country in question, potential refugees would be redistributed across other member states, according to a set distribution key.
At present, a similar mechanism exists as a one-off pledge to relieve countries such as Greece and Italy of up to 160,000 asylum seekers. Implementation is lagging, however, with just over 1,100 people relocated to date.
- Option 2: Fundamental overhaul
Under this plan, the Dublin system would be scrapped and replaced with a mechanism allocating asylum seekers to member states on the basis of a distribution key that takes into account the countries' size, wealth and capacity to absorb refugees. This would be irrespective of where the asylum claimant first entered the EU.
Individual member states would be responsible for deciding on the asylum requests of those people allocated to them.
- 'Europeanization' of the asylum process
In the long term, the commission suggests that the responsibility for assessing asylum claims could shift to the EU level, for example to a bolstered-up version of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO).
Asylum seekers would be allocated to member states on the basis of the distribution key outlined above, but the decision to grant them refugee status would be taken centrally.
The commission acknowledges, however, that this would require "major institutional transformation," making it "difficult to envisage in the short or medium term."
OTHER COMMISSION SUGGESTIONS:
- Further harmonize EU asylum rules
Each member state has its own rules to assess asylum claims, meaning that people "shop" around and try to reach those countries where they consider their chances to be highest. The national systems are in line with EU guidelines, but the commission wants to replace these with a single set of asylum rules applying to all member states, harmonizing aspects such as the maximum duration of the asylum procedure. It also wants to ensure that reception conditions are the same across the EU.
- Prevent border-hopping within the EU
A lack of internal EU borders makes it easy for asylum seekers to file their claim in one member state and then abscond to another. The commission is considering sanctions in such cases, including possible detention. It also suggested reinforcing the existing rules to ensure that refugees are only entitled to rights and benefits in the country granting them protection.
- Expand use of fingerprint database
The commission wants to expand the Eurodac system, which stores fingerprint data, so it can help in applying the reformed asylum system. This would also make Eurodac available to help identify economic migrants - those who are not entitled to international protection - and return them home more easily.
- Strengthen EASO's role
EASO could be given greater powers to ensure that member states are complying with EU asylum standards on issues such as reception conditions and access to asylum procedures. This could pave the way for the commission to intervene by prescribing extra measures if shortcomings are identified.
The commission also suggested appointing EASO to carry out the distribution of asylum seekers under either of the two suggested options to reform the Dublin system.