Asylum Without Borders: Europe's Refugee Crisis and The Challenge to European Unity

Kraus, Hannah [Browse]
Senior thesis


Meunier Aitsahalia, Sophie [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
The European Union (EU) is currently facing a refugee and migrant crisis of unprecedented dimensions that is threatening to undo the European project. On the one hand, Member States blame the EU for not adequately organizing a collective response to the influx of migrants at its borders. On the other hand, they simultaneously refuse to surrender control or delegate more competences to the supranational level to organize such a response. This thesis examines the EU’s institutional ability to respond to this crisis. How has a confusion of competences between the EU and its individual Member States regarding asylum and migration policy impacted the EU’s ability to manage the refugee crisis? The EU’s lack of internal borders makes a unified response to processing asylum application crucial, yet cooperation between the Member States and the EU in forging such a unified response has been lacking. This thesis develops two hypotheses about the impact of this lack of institutional cooperation. First, I hypothesize that the EU has not been able to manage the crisis through its competences regarding asylum and migration, because its Member States have not implemented the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Second, I hypothesize that this lack of cooperation by Member States has pushed the EU to mount an externalized approach to migration, which seeks to control migration before it arrives at EU borders. To assess the validity of these hypotheses, I first analyze the legal framework of the CEAS. I then synthesize data on the decisions of asylum applications lodged in the EU in 2015, and show how protection rates for different countries of origin vary greatly across Member States. I supplement this quantitative analysis with an examination of how Member States have acted unilaterally in responding to the crisis, oftentimes in defiance of the EU. I then turn to an analysis of the EU’s external dimension to migration, comprised of a series of third country partnerships that aim to either externalize “control” of migration through readmission agreements and funding for enhanced border control in major countries of origin, or to “prevent” migration in the first place, by funding development initiatives to address the root causes of migration. I assess to what extent the EU has prioritized these two aims. Lastly, I analyze a case study of the EU-Turkey Statement. The collective results of this research lead me to conclude that a confusion of competences regarding asylum and migration policy has caused the EU to increasingly turn to an externalization approach in the face of a lack of ability to manage the crisis through its Member States. In doing so, the EU has specifically prioritized a “control” approach to migration rather than a “preventive” one.

Supplementary Information