The European Commission is seeking a radical shakeup on refugee policy–and that means big trouble is brewing for British Prime Minister David Cameron.
At present, the geographical location of Italy and Greece to the Mediterranean Sea means that these countries are taking on a particularly heavy burden from refugees arriving from the Middle East and Africa. They are – somewhat understandably – not enamored with the status quo.
So in order to ease the burden on Italy and Greece, and strike a more equitable arrangement throughout the European Union, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has spoken of a need to scrap what is known as the ‘Dublin rule’. Through this agreement, refugees must apply for asylum in the EU nation in which they first gain entry.
Scrapping the ‘Dublin rule’ means that, if you arrive in Greece from Syria, qualify as a refugee, and make it to Germany, Germany would have no legal grounds to send you back to Greece (these plans would, at present, only apply to refugees from Iraq, Syria and Eritrea).
Going hand in hand with this are EU plans to enforce quotas in order to resettle newcomers more equitably. So, France and Germany, for example, stand to receive tens of thousands more refugees. In theory, quotas should not matter to London since the UK (along with Denmark and the Republic of Ireland) has an opt-out on agreeing to European Union rules on refugee quotas.
The problem for the United Kingdom, however, comes when refugees make it the UK and, with the ‘Dublin rule’ scrapped, apply for asylum in the UK.
This would mean not only a further strain on social services (housing, healthcare), but would also undermine the government claim that it would cut immigration. In fact it has been wildly unsuccessful in doing so (despite government pledges to get net migration down to the ‘tens of thousands’, last year it was a whopping 336,000).
Yet it is also a problem for David Cameron politically. The Prime Minister has promised the British people a referendum on exiting the European Union. Cameron is hoping to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership beforehand, focusing on issues relating to sovereignty, the economy and immigration.
So, as Cameron bids to convince a historically Eurosceptic population concerned about sky-high levels of immigration that he can get a good deal, the prospect of a Brussels-inspired influx of new refugees is the last thing he needs.
There is still uncertainty as to the exact date of the referendum, but it is likely to be this year and it is no secret Cameron will be campaigning to keep Britain in. Thanks to Juncker, the task may now be that bit harder for the prime minister.