At the summit in Tampere, Finnland in 1999, the leaders of the European Union set what seemed to be the reasonable goal of harmonizing asylum procedures and criteria throughout the Union by 2004. Refugee advocates immediately suspected, however, that such an attempt at harmonization would result in a search for the lowest, or most restrictive, common denominator in asylum policy and that little if any attention would be given to assuring access to asylum and a functional level of protection throughout Europe. Now, five years after the Tampere deadline, despite several EU directives aimed at harmonization, Europe is still nowhere close to having a uniform asylum policy or procedures. It seems that the main area of coordination has been in enforcing the Union’s external borders and limiting potential refugees’ access to European asylum; the worst fears of the refugee advocates expressed during follow ups to Tampere seem to have been realized. Specific situations, especially in Southern Europe (Greece, Italy, and Spain) will be cited, showing how coordinated EU action has worked to the detriment of asylum and how, in cases of non compliance with EU standards, the EU has been ultimately helpless in moving member states toward protecting asylum seekers’ rights.
Bruce Leimsidor is Professor at the University Ca’ Foscari, Venice, Italy (University of Venice), since 2003. He teaches courses on immigration, immigration related legislation, and the immigration program of the European Union. He is also regular consultant for Venice City Government on asylum issues since 2005.