Challenges to a comprehensive EU migration and asylum policy

Labelled as Europe’s biggest challenge, the Syrian refugee crisis has revealed the severe gaps in Europe’s response to collective problems, as Member States struggle to cope with the influx and differ on how best to resettle hundreds of thousands of uprooted people. There is a growing realisation that the issue has to be dealt with collectively at the European level and there are high expectations that the European Union (EU) will help resolve the migration challenges faced by its Member States, particularly on curbing irregular immigration and managing local pressures on borders and asylum processes.

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    Key messages

    The EU has been criticised for a lack of leadership and coherent and coordinated policy-making in the face of the refugee crisis and for poorly designed response mechanisms, all of which have severely constrained timely solutions and effective implementation. Short term approaches have failed to address the long-term nature of the migration and refugee problem.

    There are three fundamental structural reasons for the failure to deliver a comprehensive and effective EU approach to the refugee crisis: the system of parallel competences that allows Member States to pursue their own policies alongside EU policy; the co-existence of too many actors who want their say in policies and who come from very different policy areas with varying if not conflicting interests; and fragmented, and in some cases, overlapping funding instruments.

    There are a number of incremental steps the EU could take to overcome these constraints, including by appointing a senior political advisor to build bridges between the external and internal dimension of migration and asylum policies across the EU system and between the EU institutions and the Member States.

    To be effective, the proposed measures would require far greater political recognition of the fact that a joint response is in the interests of EU Member States and the EU as a whole.

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