The Interpretation of Article I of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees by the European Union: Toward Harmonization

Posted: 22 Jun 2010 Last revised: 20 Apr 2012

See all articles by Sonia E. Rolland

Sonia E. Rolland

Northeastern University - School of Law

Date Written: 2003


At the time when the European Community is perfecting the internal common market and facilitating circulation between the member states, the need arises for a common immigration and asylum policy. Each EU country is a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention but the application of its provision and particularly the interpretation of the Article 1 definition differ significantly from state to state. The Commission Proposal for a Directive "on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals and stateless persons as refugees" presents a comprehensive project to harmonize substantive law on the definition of refugees within the E.U. The text raises a series of issues pertaining to its substantive provisions and to how the harmonization mechanism connects with existing domestic frameworks for the evaluation of refugee claims. In the latter category, a question of particular concern is the compatibility of the Proposed Directive with precedents under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms regarding refugee protection. Because the relatively new Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union is strongly inspired by the European Convention on Human Rights, the refugee issue highlights the importance of the linkage between both instruments.

Part I of the Article examines the genesis of the E.U. harmonization process; it presents a comparative summary of the law of several western European countries (particularly England, France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark), demonstrating the need for harmonization of substantive law. Part II analyzes the Proposed Directive and its connection with international law and member states' laws. It argues that several provisions of the Proposed Directive are not in conformity with international law and suggests avenues for reform. Part III reflects on the interaction between the E.U. regime and the European human rights instruments that are, or may be, used by refugees to seek protection. The Conclusion seeks to assess whether the Directive can achieve its harmonization goals in conformity with international refugee law.

Keywords: EU, European Union, Refugee, 951 Refugee convention, non-refoulement, harmonization

Suggested Citation

Rolland, Sonia Elise, The Interpretation of Article I of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees by the European Union: Toward Harmonization (2003). Georgetown Immigration Law Review, Vol. 18, p. 111, 2003. Available at SSRN:

Sonia Elise Rolland (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - School of Law ( email )

400 Huntington Ave.
Boston, 02115
United States
+1 617.37.7331 (Phone)
+1 617.373.5056 (Fax)


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