The first efforts to cooperate in matters of asylum and migration at the European level can be mainly attributed to the mass inflow of asylum seekers during the late 1980s and early 1990s, following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe. As an initial response to the unprecedented influx, EU member states began to implement and coordinate policies to prevent irregular arrivals. During this period, two major problems were identified. The first involved the risk of ‘asylum shopping’, i.e., a situation in which migrants apply for asylum in more than one member state or seek to apply in a state other than the first state of arrival. The second challenge related to the possibility that asylum seekers would gravitate towards member states with more generous asylum and welfare systems.
As a result, the 12 EC states found themselves in need of a common solution to solve what was perceived as a transnational challenge. This led to the development of the Dublin Convention in 1990 and initial steps in the Maastricht Treaty of 1993, where issues of asylum and migration became ‘matters of common interest’ but were still dealt with on an intergovernmental basis. In 1997, the Treaty of Amsterdam, which amended Maastricht, included the objective to gradually establish an area of freedom, security and justice (AFSJ) encompassing matters related to asylum and migration. Subsequently, at the Tampere European Council in 1999, member states agreed to harmonise their asylum systems based on binding legislation towards the creation of a Common European Asylum System (CEAS).
Nevertheless, despite EU efforts to harmonise asylum legislation, spanning two decades, significant differences persist in the recognition rates, provision of reception conditions and procedural guarantees for asylum seekers across EU member states.
In practice, these divergences are the result of the ambiguous provisions in the asylum directives, yet more importantly, they reflect the diversity in national preferences in terms of how to deal with irregular migration. This highlights the difficulty in developing policies in this field, but even more so, in harmonising common standards across the EU.