24 Oct 2016, 41 mins ago

As already discussed elsewhere on our site , with tens of thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, the EU is struggling to reach agreement on proposals for each Member State to accept a quota of asylum seekers. The delay in finding a solution is frustrating Italy, the main recipient of Mediterranean migrants, whose Prime Minister has announced that, unless an equitable deal is struck, it will start issuing the migrants with temporary visas allowing them to travel elsewhere in the Schengen Area, along with other drastic measures such as refusing to receive any more ships carrying migrants and refusing docking for foreign ships rescuing those stranded at sea. If Italy carries out these threats, then it will become increasingly difficult to control the movement of the migrants across the Schengen Area.

Italy is not the only country frustrated with the migrant problem. Hungary announced on 23 June that it is indefinitely suspending its obligations under the Dublin Regulation, which requires the country of entry to take back asylum seekers who have claimed asylum elsewhere. Hungary and Austria are both threatening to close their borders to migrants. At the same time, Switzerland and France are refusing migrants entry from Italy.

The current migrant crisis was brought to a head in mid-April by public outrage at the drowning of over eight hundred migrants when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean. Brussels has since been struggling to reach a coherent solution acceptable to all. It is now apparent that a conflict is developing between those Member States on the EU’s southern borders, which disproportionately bear the burden of receiving migrants, and the richer northern Member States, which are harder for migrants to reach. The Dublin Regulation places the burden for considering an asylum application upon the Member State of arrival, and anyone claiming asylum in another Member State will normally be returned to the country of entry.

The reality is that the Dublin regime, which was established when the EU was much smaller and when there was a very different geopolitical situation in the Mediterranean, does place an unfair burden on border States. The Commission’s proposals for a quota system are an attempt to start to address this imbalance but a quota system is in itself inconsistent with the first country of asylum principles enshrined in the Dublin system. It is unsurprising that there has been little enthusiasm from the northern Member States for any changes to the Dublin system, given that any such changes would mean that they would have to share some of the burden currently carried by border States. There has also been vehement resistance to the quota system proposals from the Eastern European Member States, despite the fact that Hungary is one of the largest recipients of asylum applications in the EU. In this context, Italy’s threats are best seen as an attempt to put pressure on the other Member States by confronting them with the possibility that if they cannot reach agreement on quotas, then matters might be taken out of their hands.