It won’t come as a surprise that Italians are greatly concerned about the reception obligations set forth in the EU international protection framework, Dublin III in particular. Although Italy was recently subject to an infringement procedure because of its alleged failure to comply with ‘EURODAC’ identification requirements for asylum applicants, a breakdown of the 2013 Dublin system has been implicitly confirmed, inter alia, by the European Commission and Parliament.

Only five countries, including Italy, already had to deal with more than 70% of the asylum applications lodged within the EU in 2014. The decisions adopted to assist member states totally overwhelmed by last year’s surge of migration flows, like Italy and Greece, by transferring thousands of asylum-seekers and their international protection needs to other EU countries, was initially hit by broad resistance.

From Italy’s point of view, there is a real fear that the entire scenario is bound to worsen, since some neighbouring countries decided, though they say temporarily, to close their borders. Radically changing the legal framework established by the last Dublin regulation is now more necessary than ever. In this respect, Italy launched a proposal which was endorsed by the European Parliament and which goes way beyond the soft position taken by the Commission this April.

Indeed, the Commission’s first option for post-Dublin III supplements the present system with a ‘corrective fairness mechanism’, but it doesn’t appear an adequate solution for tackling the huge imbalance between the member states most exposed to the refugee crisis, and the rest in terms of international protection obligations. The Commission’s second option suggests creating a wholly new system for allocating asylum applications in the EU based on a distribution key, which may be more acceptable to the member states facing an excessive number of international protection seekers, provided that all the key criteria are duly clarified. This would be a realistic step forward because the hypothetical management of applications by the EU, supported within Italy’s proposal but not openly welcomed by the Commission, probably won’t see the light of day.

Finally, it must be recalled that the EU’s ability to cope with migration phenomena will be a crucial subject for national political debates in a period characterised by widespread scepticism towards supranational government, especially after the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Indeed, the results achieved, and the failures registered, directly by the EU in 2016 in managing immigration will influence national public opinion in different ways during the 2017-18 election campaigns in Italy – as it has already done elsewhere.

The feeling of a member state ‘abandoned’ by the vast majority of its peers – and by the EU itself – risks causing negative socio-political consequences for the wider EU, just at a time when a strong sense of European unity is so badly needed.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC / FLICKR – Jordi Bernabeu Farrús