folder VI.2 The European Union

The EU comprises 28 Member States. It was established through three treaties signed by six European states in the 1950s, the most important in its early years being the EEC Treaty of 1957. The initial instruments were elaborated and updated by successive treaties over the following decade, with the Treaty on the European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) defining the EU primary legal framework today. The EEC Treaty’s original objectives were to achieve economic integration in the region. Three main transformations have subsequently taken place, which have significantly impacted upon the asylum field. These have resulted, firstly, from the continued enlargement of the group of states participating to 28 at present; secondly, through the consolidation of EU law in this area, which now takes priority over the national law of the Member States; and thirdly, the widening of the Union’s responsibilities with the addition of justice and home affairs, including asylum and migration, as a Union or Community competence, in 1999. From that date the EU has been a central actor in determining the law of international protection in the Member States. The EU’s structure incorporates several key institutions including the European Parliament, the European Council and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), as well as independent Agencies whose work is relevant to asylum, including the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) and the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (Frontex).

     In addition, EU asylum law and practice has great potential to influence significantly the development of the international protection system more broadly. This is in part because many countries look to the EU as a leading standard-setter in legal and normative terms. In addition, however, given that State practice is a source of international law, harmonized practice (if and when it is achieved) in all EU Member States will be extremely important in contributing to the evolution of international refugee law worldwide.

Editor’s Note

This section is structured to provide an overview of EU developments of refugee law. The section starts with the criteria and contents of protection and then follows the road of the asylum seeker attempting to access the procedure in order to be recognised as in need of protection. 


folder VI.2.1 Towards a Common European Asylum System (CEAS)

Main Debates

What are the objectives of EU involvement in asylum law?

Does it aim at human rights protection, application of asylum in the context of the EU internal market, or establishment of fortress Europe?

Is the EU involvement in asylum law raising or lowering standards in practice?

What is the relationship of the 1951 Geneva Convention with EU asylum law?

What is the relationship between the 1951 Geneva Convention and Member States’ national law enacted pursuant to the European Community instruments?

What have been the main results of the legislative process and other forms of common policy-making since 1999?

To what extent is the CEAS truly ’common’?

What potential has the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice of the European Union in asylum cases to influence the development of refugee protection standards, not only in the EU, but also at global level?

Main Points

Historical development of EU law on asylum

Evolving EU competences over asylum matters

Human rights and the EU

Institutional actors and their powers and roles

Evolving roles of the different EU institutions in EU asylum law and policy-making

folder VI.2.3 Access to Territory and Access to Procedures

Main Debates

Assistance to those displaced outside the EU v. duty to provide protection within European state territory

Non-entrée policies v. duty to provide protection

Main Point

Tension between objectives of migration control, particularly control of irregular migration, and protection obligations

Editor’s Note

Examine how attempts to reconcile migration control and protection have been made when EC legislation was proposed and applied in practice and when the legislation was adopted.

folder VI.2.4 Procedures for Granting Protection

Main Debates

Has the first phase of harmonisation of EC asylum law brought about consistency of decision-making and harmonisation in practice? If not, what further steps are required to achieve these aims?

What do the extensive exceptions and qualifications to protection criteria and procedural safeguards in EU instruments mean for access to a fair and effective refugee status determination process?


See cases under sections 2.4.3, 2.4.4, 2.4.5 and 2.4.6 and their respective sub-sections.