EU Parliament's approval of September refugee relocation reveals juxtaposition between efficiency and democracy

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At the end of September, with refugees arriving in EU member states at levels unprecedented for the past 70 years, the EU Parliament passed a plan to relocate refugees to provide them with better care and to relieve the beleaguered frontline states whose resources are stretching increasingly thin. 

The decision was reached through a mechanism known as the ‘urgency procedure’ – a veritable fast tracking of legislation on issues deemed crucial to the integrity of the European Union.  While reserved for only the most extreme of scenarios, under the procedure, the issue comes to the floor and takes precedent over other issues, has a curtailed voting and debate procedure, and does not require a dialect concerning amendments with either council or the commission.  Therefore, the process is streamlined and allows for directives to be put forth much quicker - essential when considering the numbers of refugees and the urgency of the situation.

Urgency procedure was used to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers at the proposal of commission.  It expedited the process and helped ensure the wellbeing of the asylum seekers and alleviate Croatia and Hungary, two battered nations on the frontlines of the influx.  

While these are certainly commendable achievements, one has to question their ramifications.  In dealing with the skyrocketing numbers of refugees, expedience is paramount to assuring refugees' safety and first steps towards normalization – but paradoxically, settling the refugees is something that cannot be rushed. 

The scale of the crises is something that the EU is not procedurally equipped to deal with, and thus must be given significant consideration for fear of oversight and resulting calamity. 

However, there is an even greater potential pitfall resulting from urgency procedure: a loss of democracy.

In recent weeks, public support for the acceptance of more refugees has waned.  While this is old news in the smaller states on the front lines of the crisis, large groups are emerging in Germany and Sweden – the champion states of asylum seekers – that actively, sometimes violently, oppose the government’s willingness to allow increasing numbers of refugees into the country.

Public outcry against granting the asylum seekers shelter is nothing new even for states as welcoming as Germany and Sweden, but recent polls show that these sentiments are surging, and fast gaining ground in national parliaments as well. 

This development may serve as an indictment of the use urgency procedure in the future.  While this sort of executive action may be acceptable from an executive branch, one must certainly question if the same is true for a parliament. 

It is important to affirm that the European Parliament’s use of urgency procedure is rather unprecedented, but it is a tool used often in other legislative assemblies across the world.

As the EU searches for a resolution to a crisis that shows no sign of stopping, speed is essential to accommodating asylum seekers and alleviating strained member states, and thus urgency procedure will certainly be an important vehicle in the solution.  However, with public support on the decline, parliament must tread lightly – it mustn’t ignore its mandate to represent the European people in its urgency to resolve the refugee crisis. 


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This is a blog post by Connor Hirsch, Intern at United Nations Development Program