Leg. Dev.: European Council Directive 2001/55/EC: Toward a Common European Asylum System

8 Colum. J. Eur. L. 359 (2002)

Scott Reynolds.

On July 20, 2001, the Council of the European Union (“the Council”) issued Directive 2001/55/EC (“the Directive”), as part of the foundation necessary for a common European asylum system. The Directive sets minimum standards for the temporary protection of displaced persons in the event of a mass movement of such persons to Member States. It also adopts measures that promote balance between Member States in receiving such persons and bearing the consequences thereof.


Article 63(2) of the Amsterdam Treaty, which entered force on May 1, 1999, required the Council to adopt measures relating to refugees and other displaced persons within five years. Specifically, the Treaty directed the Council to address minimum standards for the temporary protection of those displaced and to determine appropriate means for balancing the consequences of such provisions among Member States.

The recent experience in the Kosovar region further clarified the need for a more standardized system of protections. The Yugoslav crisis confronted Europe with an exodus of refugees on a scale not seen since the Second World War. For the first time in over fifty years, the systems developed by Member States for dealing with displaced persons were pushed to their limits. It became evident that the national systems for granting temporary protection were often imperfect, incomplete, and sometimes put in place quickly and in an ad hoc manner.

Measures taken by Member States varied widely in their provisions. Some nations provided for temporary protection through legislation; others, not using the term “temporary protection,” accomplished substantially similar results through the issuance of residence documents linked to their independent asylum systems. Regimes also differed in the maximum length of protection they afforded, ranging from six months to five years. Chiefly, systemic differences existed in the granting of welfare benefits to displaced persons – some Member States preserved rights to employment and family reunifications, while others did not. The variable nature of existing procedures further exposed the need for a unified system.