Brussels Threatens Legal Action Over EU ‘Asylum Shopping’ Law

Brussels threatens legal action over EU 'asylum shopping' law
10.10.2006 – 17:22 CET | By Honor Mahony

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – An EU-wide law setting minimum standards for granting refugee status took effect on Tuesday (10 October), with Brussels hoping to close big gaps in what member states accept as qualifying crieria for asylum seekers.

Member states are bound by the UN refugee convention of 1961 whose article one on the definition of a refugee is wide open to legal interpretation.

This has led to a situation where people citing similar histories and reasons for fleeing their countries had vastly different chances of being granted refugee status depending on which member state they chose to go to.

Some 84 percent of refugees from Chechnya, for example, are recognised in Austria, this figure drops to 42 percent for France, 23 percent for Germany and 0 percent in Slovakia, according to UN statistics.

“What we note is the very strange, huge discrepancies in recognition rates of cases belonging to one and the same nationality, often to the same ethnic groups,” said a commission spokesman.

He said he hoped the new law which “qualifies who legally is a person fulfilling the criteria of the Refugee Convention” will lead to “a more level playing field of EU asylum policies in Europe.”

Only six member states – Estonia, Lithuania, Austria, France, Slovenia and Luxembourg – had transposed the EU law, agreed in May 2004, with the European Commission threatening legal action unless the 19 stragglers follow suit.

“We very much hope that member states will implement as soon as possible or we will make use of the powers available to us to enforce the treaties.”

This foot-dragging reflects the sensitivity of the policy with national governments reluctant to concede powers to Brussels on who they should let across their borders.

For its part, the UN welcomed the new law but urged member states to go further saying it just set minimum standards for granting refugee status.

It is “not a perfect instrument,” the UN's Europe director for refugees, Pirrko Kourula, said of the law.

“It only sets minimum standards which EU member states are free to surpass. We encourage them to offer the highest standards of refugee protection,” she added.