Prisoners of the Dublin Dilemma

How to reform the Common European Asylum System?

The humanitarian crisis at the internal and external borders of Europe and the dysfunctionality of the Dublin Regulation call for political responses to the challenges posed by humanitarian migration to Europe. The European countries are deeply divided on how to reform the Common European Asylum System. Attempts to relocate asylum seekers across Europe have not succeeded and revealed the lack of solidarity among European countries. In this paper, we analyse the causes of the current asylum policy crisis in Europe and propose potential policy solutions. We conduct a thorough game-theoretical analysis of the incentive structures of countries and asylum seekers influenced by the rules of the Dublin Regulation. Based on this analysis, we propose a comprehensive reform of the Common European Asylum System.

We found that the Dublin Regulation provides systematic disincentives for asylum seekers as well as member states with regard to the registration of asylum seekers and hence undermines the functionality of the Common European Asylum System. Member states aim to avoid financial and political costs resulting from processing and accommodating asylum seekers. Therefore, buck-passing becomes a rational strategy for states, creating negative externalities for other European states. In contrast, asylum seekers often have a preferred destination country which in most instances does not correspond with the country of first entry. For this reason, the Dublin Regulation incentivizes asylum seekers to avoid or to ignore registration in the country of first entry and to continue their journey irregularly within Europe.

Consequently, Europe faces a coordination dilemma: Both the states and asylum seekers are in principle interested in formal registration, yet the Dublin Regulation creates strong incentives for the actors involved to not comply with the registration rules. Building on these insights, the authors propose a comprehensive reform based on the following four measures:

● Firstly, the responsibility for registering asylum seekers is separated from the responsibility for processing asylum requests. This removes the disincentives
for member states to register asylum seekers.

● Secondly, individual asylum requests are still processed by one state only. However, the preferred destination country of asylum seekers is taken into consideration when relocating them to other states. This measure is key to restore the incentives for asylum seekers to register at the European country of first entry, providing them with increased autonomy as well as with better perspectives for long-term integration.

● Thirdly, the financial expenses linked to asylum procedures are shared between the European countries on the base of the existing refugee quota. This measure establishes European solidarity as a common denominator, so that countries will receive support for the provision of humanitarian protection.

● Fourthly, a solidarity clause is introduced that allows countries to temporarily stop the intake of new asylum requests if these numbers largely exceed the refugee quota of a country. This measure offers an insurance against excessive responsibility for individual countries that is in line with the Geneva Convention.

Our proposal for reforming the Common European Asylum System enriches the current debate among states and NGOs and stands out from existing reform approaches of the European Commission, by factoring in the rational strategies of actors affected by European asylum policies. Moreover, the reform outlined in this paper is likely to gain political support since it offers benefits to all European countries. Countries at EU’s periphery will be relieved from the responsibility to process the majority of asylum requests and thus they have incentives to ensure registration. Principal reception countries (i.e. Northern European countries) will be provided with financial assistance. Last, countries unwilling to accept a binding refugee quota can instead contribute with financial means to European solidarity. The current crisis provides a window of opportunity for comprehensive reforms of the Common European Asylum System in order to craft sustainable institutions for the protection of refugees.


Philipp Lutz

Philipp Lutz ist Programmleiter Migration beim Think Tank foraus und Doktorand in Politikwissenschaft an der Universität Bern. Seine Forschungsschwerpunkte liegen in der vergleichenden Migrationspolitik und dem politischen Verhalten.

David Kaufmann

foraus-Senior Policy Fellow Migration


Anna Stünzi

Co-Programmleiterin Umwelt, Energie & Verkehr