States as Gatekeepers in EU Asylum Politics: Explaining the Non-adoption of a Refugee Quota System

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Building on Moravcsik's Liberal Intergovernmentalism, I offer an explanation of the non-decision on permanent EU refugee quotas. Some traditionally influential Member States in EU asylum politics, such as Germany, Austria and Sweden, received large numbers of refugees and faced strong domestic pressures to engage other Member States in responsibility-sharing. Yet, governments of Member States with small application numbers (among whom several Eastern European governments were particularly vocal) had incentives to undercut responsibility-sharing to avoid similar pressures. Having a better alternative to the potentially negotiated agreement, these governments successfully blocked the introduction of permanent refugee quotas. Besides explaining the absence of an effective response to one of the root causes of the asylum crisis (unequal strains) through asymmetrical interdependence, the article further develops Liberal Intergovernmentalist arguments and shows how national electorates influence positions taken by governments at the EU level when they are mobilized by right-wing populist parties.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Common Market Studies
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)44-62
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 01.2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Italy and Greece clearly preferred permanent refugee quotas over the current Dublin system, which placed all the responsibility on them. But they took a less active role in the negotiations compared to Austria, Germany and Sweden. In Italy, the populist Cinque Strelle (Five Stars) movement, which scored high in opinion polls (30.6 per cent in July 2016, thus surpassing Prime Minister Renzi’s Democrats which was supported by 29.8 per cent of the respondents; Jones, 2016), also favoured more European co-operation and supported EU funding cuts for states that were unwilling to share the responsibility (Squires, 2016). Yet, as actual numbers of asylum-seekers in these countries were relatively low (see Table 1) and the criticism of populists on this matter was directed towards the EU and other Member States rather than their national governments, these governments were not under the same pressures as those of Austria, Germany or Sweden. Additionally, permanent refugee quotas were no real solution to their actual problem of being first entry countries as the distribution key would have mainly helped countries receiving the largest application numbers.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 University Association for Contemporary European Studies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd

    Research areas

  • liberal Intergovernmentalism, populism, refugee crisis, responsibility-sharing
  • Politics