The Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is the European Union’s framework for asylum seekers. The CEAS sets out common standards and cooperation to ensure that asylum seekers are treated equally in an open and fair system wherever they apply. This Just the Facts explains the background of the CEAS, how it works, and the 2020 reform of it.
Background to the CEAS
The 1951 Geneva Convention defines a refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”
An asylum seeker is a person who has left their country to seek protection from violence or persecution, but who has not yet been legally recognized as a refugee. Asylum is a fundamental right and an international obligation for countries, as recognised in the 1951 Geneva Convention.
In the 1990s, large numbers of people became displaced throughout Europe, following the collapse of the USSR. As a result, the European Union realised the need for a common system for managing asylum claims.
In 1999, the European Council committed to establish a Common European Asylum System (CEAS), based on the principles outlined in the Geneva Convention. As a result, the CEAS was developed to harmonise asylum policies across the European Union.
The CEAS recognises that EU countries have a shared responsibility to welcome asylum seekers, in a way that ensures they are treated fairly and in a dignified manner. The purpose of the CEAS is to ensure that the asylum application of any individual in any of the EU Member States will always receive the same result.
What is the CEAS?
The CEAS consists of five key pieces of legislation; the Asylum Procedures Directive, the Reception Conditions Directive, the Qualification Directive, the EURODAC Regulation and the Dublin Regulation.
These pieces of legislation set out common standards for asylum decision making and reception conditions. They also ensure that asylum seekers have access to international protection and that Member States are aware of their responsibility to examine asylum claims.
The European Union Agency for Asylum supports Member States with the application of the CEAS and works to ensure that asylum procedures are harmonised across the EU. First established in February 2011, it is based in Valletta, Malta.
The weaknesses of the CEAS came to light in 2015, when Europe experienced a refugee crisis. The purpose of the CEAS is to ensure that EU Member States have a shared responsibility to welcome asylum seekers. However, some Member States, such as Italy and Greece, experienced larger flows of displaced people than others, due in part to their geographical proximity to receiving asylum seekers who were coming to Europe via Turkey and Libya.
This placed much of the responsibility on Italy and Greece to process these asylum claims due to the Dublin Regulation. The Dublin regulation (also known as the Dublin III regulation) was adopted in 2003 and determines that the Member State where an asylum seeker first entered the EU is responsible for examining their claim for asylum.
It is based on the principal that claims will get equal treatment in each state, but as the crisis in 2015 highlighted, it has put extreme pressure on Member States in the border regions of the EU and has made seeking asylum more challenging.
How can the CEAS be reformed?
Since its creation in 1999, the CEAS has been constantly evolving, and several reforms of the framework have taken place during this period, including the introduction of the Temporary Protection Directive, which was used earlier this year to protect Ukrainian people who became displaced following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, the 2015 refugee crisis highlighted the need for greater reform, and since then, the European Union has been working to make the CEAS work better for Member States and asylum seekers.
In 2020, the European Commission proposed a new Pact on Migration and Asylum. The Pact acknowledges the challenges of finding a solution to migration pressures that suits both Member States and asylum seekers but proposes several new instruments to improve the asylum system based on solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility.
As part of the Pact, European Commission is proposing to modify the Dublin Regulation with a new Regulation on Asylum and Migration Management. The Regulation aims to share the burden of migration management across EU Member States, so that the border regions do not have to bear most of the responsibility for processing asylum claims.
It introduces a solidarity mechanism for situations of migratory pressure such as the 2015 crisis, and as well as stronger protections and rights for asylum seekers. Under the solidarity mechanism, all Member States would have an obligation to act during situations of migratory pressure but reserve the right to choose how they act. This could be through relocating asylum seekers from the country they first arrived in and examining their claims, to providing operational support.
Commenting on the new proposals in 2020, Amnesty International welcomed the European Commission’s “commitment to a more humane approach to protection” but noted that this commitment is “only reflected sparsely in the proposals”. It added that “the Pact on Migration and Asylum missed the opportunity to fundamentally reform the Dublin system” and that the complexity of the solidarity mechanism “raises doubts as to whether is actually workable in practice.”
At an informal meeting of EU Home Affairs Ministers in Lille in February 2022, Minister for Justice of Ireland, Helen McEntee, commented that “Ireland has always supported EU efforts to deal with this issue in a comprehensive and holistic way and the approach being taken is balanced and pragmatic.”
She added that “the focus on specific aspects of the Pact presents an opportunity to build trust and introduce much needs reforms while also making sure to find the right balance between responsibility and solidarity.”
The proposals have been under the scrutiny of the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, who agreed a Joint Roadmap in the Common European Asylum System and the Pact on Migration and Asylum in September 2022.
The Commission aims for the proposals to be fully implemented by March 2024 and has called on Member States to implement the solidarity mechanism.