by Nando Sigona

The Dublin regulation in its three incarnations has attracted plenty of criticism on various grounds and from various statutory and non-statutory actors – the most noticeable perhaps being it is a system that impact unevenly on EU member states, with countries at the EU’s southern border particularly exposed because of their position. These countries have traditionally responded to the pressure imposed by the Dublin regulation in two ways – formally, demanding more solidarity from other member states and a different system altogether; informally, letting people slip through their bureaucratic net not finger-printing them (see Italy) or allowing such poor reception conditions for asylum seekers to force other member states to stop returning so called ‘Dublin cases’ on human rights ground (see Greece).

The events of the last months have de facto led to the suspension of the Dublin regulation and further intensified the call for a substantial revamp of the system whose limitations have become blatantly apparent lately, not just for the burden it imposes on some states but because altogether unable to cope with mass inflows like the ones witnessed in the last few years. So it came with no surprise this week’s announcement by the EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos that the commission is planning a radical make-over of the Dublin regulation, with the introduction of a ‘quasi-automatic distribution key system’. As Mr Avramopolous told MEPs in the civil liberties committees, ‘Dublin should not be any more just a mechanism to allocate responsibility’. The aim is to create ‘a solidarity instrument among member’, he added. We don’t need to go back much to recall the strenuous opposition that some member states displayed over the summer months to any proposal for the relocation of asylum seekers registered in Italy, Greece and Hungary to other member states. After many EU summits and quite a lot of muscle-flexing by Germany and Italy, last September EU states eventually and reluctantly agreed to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers in two years. At 14 January 2016, however, member states had made available only 4237 places (2.5% of those promised) but only managed to relocate 272 refugees over this period (0.17 % of the pledged 160,000). The implementation so far of the relocation scheme doesn’t give much hope therefore on the ability of the European Commission to implement the announced quasi-automatic redistribution system for what are likely to be far larger numbers. It highlights instead two major weaknesses that may be fatal for the new proposed system: firstly, there is no evidence of a regained spirit of solidarity among EU states which would be an essential requirement for such a grand scheme to work. Secondly, the slow start of the relocation scheme confirms the EU tendency to create new bureaucratic machinery that is expensive, time-consuming and not very efficient. According to data reported this week, 40 liaison officers and 200 asylum experts have been appointed to implement the relocation scheme so far, almost one expert per resettled refugees and one liaison officer for 5 resettled refugees, not exactly value for money, and ultimately further undermining people trust in the capacity of the EU to display leadership in handling the crisis.