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Can the ongoing asylum debate be classified as a crisis situation?

The political parties in the running to form a Dutch cabinet are looking into solutions to curb the influx of refugees. The plan is to designate refugee accommodation as a crisis. But is it as simple as that? Mark Klaassen, Assistant Professor in European law, discusses this on Dutch current affairs programme ‘Nieuwsuur’.

Do crisis situations break the law?

Speaking to NOS, Dutch State Secretary for Justice and Security Eric van der Burg said that asylum accommodation cannot simply be classified as a crisis. ‘The Council of State mandates that emergency legislation cannot be applied in these situations – instead, they have to be solved through policy and standard legislation.’ However, Richard van Zwol, who is involved as an informateur in the current cabinet formation, reports to NOS that emergency measures can be taken. On Nieuwsuur, he refers to the Crisis and Recovery Act, which was applied during the economic crisis and, most recently, during the coronavirus pandemic.

A new EU pact on migration

Mark Klaassen says on Nieuwsuur that asylum policy is subject to binding EU rules. ‘On a national level, there’s limited room for manoeuvre in asylum law. EU law does not currently provide for a crisis situation in terms of numbers.’ Nieuwsuur reports that several weeks ago, a new European migration pact was adopted, including a regulation on crisis situations and force majeure. As Klaassen explains, ‘Member States that suddenly face a significant increase in refugee numbers and have done everything possible to prevent it from becoming a crisis may submit a request to the EU. Procedural safeguards could then be removed and other Member States may be asked to adopt it.’ The proposal has yet to be officially endorsed by the European Council and will enter into force after two years.

‘crisis situations and force majeure’

The regulation stems from the situation in some Member States (such as Italy, Greece and Poland) that are in close proximity to the external EU borders and have had to deal with disproportionate numbers of refugees in recent years. This new regulation may give the countries in question some relief in crisis situations. It’s highly questionable whether the current situation is serious enough to be classed as a ‘crisis or force majeure’ in Dutch asylum policy. Klaassen adds that in order to obtain Dutch crisis status, a request must be submitted to the European Commission, which then has to accept the request in the form of a decision.

‘The purpose of EU asylum law is to ensure that countries do not lower their standards – which would make them less appealing – and have a detrimental effect on another Member State,’ concludes Klaassen.

More information

Watch the NOS-Nieuwsuur broadcast (in Dutch)

Photo: Kevin Bückert through Unsplash

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