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 Europen 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.