In the previous post, we made an introduction to the New Pact on Immigration and Asylum explaining that the main objective is to make reception procedures more effective with new border controls and procedures and the reform of the Schengen system.  In today’s post, we will discuss the theme of solidarity, while our next post we will focus on the relationship between the EU and third countries, with a particular emphasis on African nations. Our main objective in both posts is to explain the various phases that the EU has gone through in trying to understand the current situation.

As we have told, the New Pact on Immigration and Asylum aims to provide assistance to respond to specific migration trends affecting Member States through cooperation with third countries.  An important point of the pact is the creation of a solidarity system based on the redistribution of immigrants among all member states, but also on long-term support for capacity-building in asylum procedures. 

EU Immigration: The Endless Debate on Solidarity and Responsibility

The system still has one main problem, namely the lack of solidarity between European states, which becomes even more evident at times of dramatic landings that sometimes result in diplomatic crises.

For example, the one between France and Italy in November 2022, when the Italian government blocked the landing of the ship Ocean Viking in Catania, and France was practically forced to disembark the ship in Toulon. The French government had accused Italy of behaving unacceptably and after this event, France had called for an end to the Voluntary Solidarity Mechanism.

The matter of solidarity remains the main problem when European leaders address the issue of immigration, as the entire reallocation process is still based on a voluntary system without a fair method of redistribution between member states, and this creates major rifts within Europe.

Once again, the main issue is the Dublin Regulation, which establishes certain criteria for exile. The mechanism is commonly criticized because, through the criterion of the ‘first country of entry’, which de facto takes precedence over all other criteria for allocating responsibility, it creates disproportionate pressure on the countries along the EU’s external borders that are responsible for registering asylum applications and receiving applicants.

Some countries, like Italy, Spain, and Greece, want to modify the criterion for asylum seekers and create an equitable division of migrants between Member States. However, France, Germany, and Sweden are against it because they say that in reality they already receive a large number of migrants. This happens because of the phenomenon of second movements where migrants move from the first country of landing to another location to seek asylum.

The data prove these countries right, as the distribution of asylum applications among EU countries shows how first-entry countries have set in motion an informal mechanism to redistribute the burden of reception by not registering asylum applications and letting asylum seekers transit to other European countries.

According to the EUAA, the European Union Asylum Agency, in 2022 around 70 percent of applications were filed in five receiving countries: Germany (244.000), France (156.000), Spain (118.000), Austria (109.000), and Italy (84.000).

The new Voluntary Mechanism for Solidarity

However, the voluntary mechanism is also the result of a long process that started in 2015, when Italy and Greece asked the EU for support to manage the high flows of asylum seekers that were straining their reception systems. 

To resolve the situation, the European Commission adopted a two-year ’emergency relocation mechanism’ in September 2015 to relocate 120.000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to the territory of other member states.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia opposed the mandatory quota, considering it a violation of national sovereignty. By the end of the emergency relocation period, most EU countries had not reached their relocation quota, and Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary had not relocated at all. In total, only 33.846 asylum seekers out of the planned 120.000 were relocated, while more than 1,5 million irregular migrants arrived in Italy and Greece, demonstrating the failure of compulsory relocation and showing the difficulty of reforming the current system.

In June 2022, the Declaration of Solidarity was adopted, which established the Voluntary Solidarity Mechanism, designed to solve problems between Member States.

The Voluntary Solidarity Mechanism aims to provide a major response to the difficulties of border states with the need to create a level playing field between member states and relieve pressure. 

The problem is that despite these mechanisms in the name of solidarity between member states there has been no real change.

In the New Pact of September 2023, there is no change as far as solidarity is concerned. The Commission wants to ensure a fair distribution of responsibilities through a new solidarity mechanism so that fairness between member states becomes an integral part of the EU asylum system. The problem is that the new pact presents no real innovation, as solidarity continues to be based on a voluntary system, leaving the main burden of managing flows to foreign border states.