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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

one thing leads to another

There is a lot going on at the moment. But amid all the short term rows about the revised constitutional treaty, the EU institutions are chugging along merrily, doing their long-term integrationist 'thing'.

For example, today the Commission has put out its green paper on the Common European Asylum System. The BBC has a good summary.

It's a classic area where the EU is marching miles ahead of - and indeed maybe not even in the same direction as - public knowledge and public opinion.

We doubt that most journalists, never mind most voters, even know that the EU is trying to set up a Common European Asylum System. Nonetheless the press release blandly states that the "first phase" of the system (the first four bits of legislation) is now complete.

The four building blocks of the first stage of the Common European Asylum System are now in place: Regulation (EC) 343/2003 ("Dublin Regulation"), Directive 2003/9/EC ("Reception Conditions Directive,") Directive 2004/83/EC ("Qualification Directive") and Directive 85/2005/EC ("Asylum Procedures Directive").

These legislative instruments aim at establishing a level playing field: a system which guarantees to persons genuinely in need of protection access to a high level of protection under equivalent conditions in all Member States while at the same time dealing fairly and efficiently with those found not to be in need of protection.

Some of that was controversial enough. Remember when the Commission said during the 2005 election that what the tories were proposing was illegal under EU law? Or the Scandinavians’ objections to a "white list" of ineligible origin countries? But the really tricky bit is the next part:

The ultimate objective of the Common European Asylum System, as envisaged by the Hague Programme, consists in the establishment of a common asylum procedure and a uniform status for persons in need of international protection valid throughout the EU.

In particular:

There is a pressing need for increased solidarity in the area of asylum, so as to ensure that responsibility for processing asylum applications and granting protection in the EU is shared equitably.

Ah - "burden sharing" in other words.

bɜː(r)dɛn shɛə(r)ing , verb: "The point at which things always get tricky in the EU" (think emissions reductions, EU budget etc).

We're always pretty sceptical when people say that the EU will 'never' do such and such a thing. Generally speaking it always ends up doing it in the end. But can this idea really ever fly? Will countries in northern Europe really agree to accept more people to take the pressure off southern member states? Can this project survive exposure to public opinion?

Maybe, maybe not. Some of the suggestions might get through below the radar of public perception, like the suggestion for a "mechanism for the mutual recognition of national asylum decisions and the possibility of transfer of protection responsibilities." However others are likely to trigger a reaction, particularly the suggestion that "Intra-EU resettlement is an important way to pursue."

Asylum is a nice example of how one thing leads to another in the EU. As Richard Williams from ECRE says in the BBC piece: "Once you have a common area of freedom of movement, you have to have common rules and safeguards on who can and cannot come in," he says.

Funnily enough, we thought someone might say that.

Going forward the issue for the UK is that having got the bits of the Common System it likes (particularly Rome) will there now be pressure for a quid pro quo? What if the UK doesn't want to take part in phase two? Opting out of it all might ruffle some feathers, but the trouble with having an opt-in not a veto is that if we agree in principle at the start of the process, there is no way back if we don't like the outcome. Interesting times ahead.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If the Brussels press pack are not up to speed on this, surely they aren't doing their job? These things are hardly a secret in Brussels, and they get flagged up well in advance in policy strategies, work programmes and the like.

I would like to think that Brussels journalists are busily filing stories on the Commission and all its works, only to have them relentlessly spiked by news editors with a relentless UK focus.