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Future Challenges | European Union |

European Union Background Information Historical Development Faces of Migration Institutional Basis Immigration Policy Integration Policy Irregular Migration Refuge and Asylum EU Citizenship Future Challenges Literature

Future Challenges

Sandra Lavenex

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In the fifteen years of its formal existence, European asylum and migration policy has developed dynamically and is today one of the European Union's priorities.

Central to the argument in this cooperation, time and again, is reference to the expectations of citizens who credit the EU with a special role in solving these matters, as can be seen in Eurobarometer surveys.

The process of integration, however, is not always straightforward or without contestation. Two controversies have determined the development of this policy area to date: firstly, the tension between standardisation based on supranational regulations and the desire to safeguard sovereignty; and secondly, the tension between the priority nations attribute to internal security and universal human rights, humanitarian values and economic priorities. During and beyond the five-year transition phase allowed for in the Treaty of Amsterdam, cooperation has been based on intergovernmental decision-making procedures, particularly those requiring unanimity in the Council of Ministers and the "co-decision procedure" involving the Council and the European Parliament. This has fostered forms of integration that safeguard sovereignty and support security policy priorities. The harmonisation of strict entry requirements and the assignment of responsibilities for checking asylum applications, however, have demanded more extensive harmonisation of substantive law. As presented above, European directives on family reunification and on the rights of settled foreigners as well as asylum procedures and the definition of a refugee come closer to this aim, without, however, significantly limiting the options for member states to formulate their own policies.

With the strengthening of supranational actors, the Commission, the Parliament, and also the European Court of Justice, the thematic agenda of cooperation has been extended significantly in recent years. On the agenda today are first steps towards a common admission policy for labour migrants, greater standardisation of asylum systems, the creation of instruments for member states to share the burdens of migration policy in a spirit of solidarity, plus a comprehensive foreign policy agenda linking migration policy goals with development policy priorities. In view of the heterogeneity that has evolved within the Union and the continuing emotional debate on migration on the domestic front, a preference can be seen for less prescriptive, predominantly operative coordination, coinciding with cautious and somewhat reluctant harmonisation. Continuing external migration pressure as well as the demographic development within the EU will, however, continue to promote integration towards a common European asylum and immigration policy.



  1. See Eurobarometer 2008.

  2. See Ette and Faist 2007.

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