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The European Council’s response to an unprecedented human crisis: the lessons of (non)co-operation – Dora Kostakopoulou

Dora Kostakopoulou is a Professor of European Union Law, European Integration and Public Policy at Warwick Law School. Responding to news that EU leaders have agreed to relocate tens of thousands of migrants who have arrived in Italy and Greece, she said:

"The members of the European Council reached a modest agreement on a voluntary resettlement scheme of 60,000 asylum seekers from Syria and Eritrea. Hungary and Bulgaria will not participate in the scheme, while Britain invoked its ‘opt-out’. Europe’s leaders decided, rightly, to respond to the plight of a small number of human beings in need of international protection, but refrained from using the full provisions of Article 78 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union in order to create ‘a common system of temporary protection for displaced persons in the event of a massive inflow’. By dismissing the Commission’s proposals for a permanent EU system for relocation in emergency situations, they failed to act as authentic spokespersons of Europe’s social conscience.

"Despite this, one discerns a few rays of hope in this modest agreement. First, there exists an explicit acknowledgment of the European Union’s duty to alleviate human suffering and to protect vulnerable asylum-seekers. Secondly, unlike the ‘burden-sharing’ discourse which characterised the EU’s response to the exodus of people during the war and disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, the principle of solidarity now equips leaders with the power to implement and enforce, if necessary, the application of norms they hold to be right, such as the moral and legal responsibility to provide protection to those escaping wars and persecution. Third, the shaping and dissemination of such moral convictions even through a modest agreement on a voluntary EU-wide resettlement scheme competes at every point with rival attempts to fragment the European edifice and to disempower it.

"This unavoidably gives rise to questions, such as ‘Where is Britain’s voice and role in protecting the vulnerable?’ and ‘What has happened to the moral standards that have traditionally characterised the British civic culture?’ No agent, be it individual or collective, can purse moral standards within a framework of reasoning and non-action which denies reality to them. Norms are always in politics and to turn a blind eye to them by invoking an opt out from the EU asylum system cannot but be an act of political immorality. "

Notes to Editors

Contact Lee Page, Communications Manager at The University of Warwick. Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255. Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221. Email:


Lee Page

Communications Manager, University of Warwick

Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255

Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221