On the one hand, good. There’s not much point keeping a law on the books that’s been transparently flouted by most EU countries for years:
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that proposed new migration reforms would replace the so-called “Dublin Regulation”, which governs which member state handles a new arrival’s asylum claim.
“I can announce that we will abolish the Dublin Regulation and we will replace it with a new European migration governance system. It will have common structures on asylum and return and it will have a new strong solidarity mechanism,” van der Leyen told European lawmakers in Brussels.
Earlier, the EU Commission chief called for Europe to work together on migration during her maiden “State of the European Union” address.
“I expect all member states to step up too. Migration is a European challenge and all of Europe must do its part,” she said.
On the other hand, there’s conspicuously little detail about what the Dublin convention will be replaced with.
The idea behind Dublin is simple enough: If you are a refugee fleeing some war-torn hellhole, and you arrive in Europe, you must claim asylum in the first safe country that you arrive in.
The good news for Ireland, of course, is that we’re not in the direct path of any war-torn hellholes. So unless someone comes in on a direct flight from Nigeria and presents themselves to the authorities, there should be very few asylum seekers ending up in Ireland.
Doesn’t quite work like that, though, does it?
In reality, EU countries have been quietly shunting refugees along the line for years. And that’s understandable. Italy and Greece, which very much are in the firing line for people fleeing north Africa or the middle east, understandably feel that their fellow EU member states should shoulder some of the burden, and have no compunction about quietly encouraging refugees to reach their borders and advance into the rest of Europe.
The problem for the EU, of course, is that other member states have been getting annoyed about this – again, understandably – to the extent that they’ve been taking matters into their own hands. Hungary, for example, put up a giant wall along its borders to keep refugees out, on the basis that if they are in Greece, they’re a Greek problem. Legally, Hungary is right. But politically, the Greeks have a point, too.
So what will they replace it with? They haven’t said, but the bit in bold above (which is my emphasis) is a good clue. All of Europe must do its part.
What that is likely to mean, in reality, is fewer refugees for Italy and Greece and more for, well, the likes of us.
The logical way to approach this would be to take the total number of refugees and apportion them out in binding quotas for each member state. That would be fair.
Of course, it will also cause a massive row, and massive political problems. For all the complaining we do about refugees here in Ireland, we accept a comparatively small number. If we have to start accepting our fair share of the European total, then there’ll be – not to put too fine a point on it – war.
This is something the Irish Government needs to be aware of, and involved in. The conversation about migration at EU level also needs to involve a discussion on deterrence. It’s neither illiberal, nor unfair, to say that our policy will be to turn away those who do not meet the criteria for asylum. And it’s not illiberal, or unfair, to enforce those criteria.
Europe is a haven for those fleeing oppression, we should say. But if you’re not fleeing oppression, go home and improve your own countries.
That would be the common sense approach. Which means, of course, that there’s not a chance of it happening. If Von Der Leyen proceeds as one might suspect she will, then immigration will become a much more salient issue in Ireland over the next decade.