Lessons of the First EU Court of Justice Judgments in Asylum Cases

Starting from 2009, national courts of the EU Member States for the first time gained a “real” right to request the EU Court of Justice for preliminary rulings in asylum matters. First judgments of this Court demonstrate equivocal tendencies: some are blaming the Court for incompetence in asylum matters, others believe that the adoption of authoritative decisions at the European level will assist in developing consistent practice of applying asylum law in the European Union, something that failed at international level due to absence of a single authoritative body to provide guidance on interpretation and application of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Considering that the judgments of the EU Court are part of the EU law, the Member States should develop their national asylum law with due regard being taken to those judgments. By the beginning of 2012, the Court has issued eight judgments on the interpretation of various problematic issues of EU asylum law. This Article analyses the jurisprudence of the EU Court in asylum cases, related to the granting of refugee status and subsidiary protection. It also provides a critical evaluation of those judgments. The main objective of the Article is to familiarise the relevant Lithuanian institutions and lawyers with the first judgments of the EU Court in asylum cases and encourage discussions concerning the application of rules established by the Court in the Lithuanian context. Due to limited size, this Article presents the analysis of two EU Court judgments adopted on interpretation of the 2004 Qualification Directive: Elgafaji v. The Netherlands (2009) dealing with granting of subsidiary protection, and Abdulla and others v. Bundesrepublik Deutschland (2010), dealing with cessation of refugee status. The value of those judgments first of all lies in the guidance they provided to the Member States on such concepts as: protection in a situation of an armed conflict, agents of protection, effectiveness of protection; as well as determination of a relationship between refugee status and subsidiary protection, relationship of the Qualification Directive with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), also cessation of protection. Elgafaji decision, while quite liberal with regard to persons seeking international protection, is not so liberally applied in the Member States’ practice and does not in itself guarantee positive outcome of the application of a concrete individual fleeing from an armed conflict, or a liberal approach to granting subsidiary protection in the Member States. Based on Elgafaji judgment it is clear that: Art. 15(b) of the Qualification Directive correspond to Art. 3 ECHR, while Art. 15(c) provides additional protection and in that it expands the Member States’ obligations beyond the ECHR to provide protection to persons fleeing in situations of armed conflict. While not every person arriving from an armed conflict situation would automatically fall under the granting of subsidiary protection, in certain exceptional situations indiscriminate violence may amount to individual threat without invoking personal circumstances. The EU Court departed from the individualisation requirement applied by the European Court of Human Rights in Art. 3 cases and did not also rely on international humanitarian law, by introducing a “sliding scale” formula for establishing an individual threat in armed conflict situation instead. This formula addressed the alleged internal discrepancy between “individual threat” and “indiscriminate violence”. The Abdulla decision brought in the human rights and law enforcement perspectives to the interpretation of cessation clauses, however it represents a rather superficial approach in the context of the analysed concepts (e.g. towards effectiveness of protection provided by the multinational armed forces) and is likely to be incompatible with the latest legislative trends in the EU asylum instruments (e.g. determination of refugee status and subsidiary protection by means of a single procedure) and the recent jurisprudence under the ECHR (e.g. failure to ensure a minimum standard of living may violate the ECHR)
Keywords protection in armed conflict situations  granting of refugee status  EU Court of Justice judgments  granting of subsidiary protection  papildomos apsaugos suteikimas  asylum  cessation of refugee status  prieglobsčio direktyvų aiškinimas ir taikymas  EU asylum law  prieglobstis  interpretation and application of asylum directives  pabėgėlio statuso pasibaigimas  Europos Sąjungos Teisingumo Teismo sprendimai  pabėgėlio statuso nustatymas  Europos Sąjungos prieglobsčio teisė  apsauga dėl vyks
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