The Informalisation of EU Readmission Policy: Eclipsing Human Rights Protection Under the Shadow of Informality and Conditionality

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Table of Contents: I. Informality and the EU external action on migration and asylum. – I.1. Informalisation and cooperation on the readmission. – I.2. Growing interest in informalisation: a literature review. – II. Informalisation, soft law and soft agreements: key concepts and definitions in the readmission policy field. – II.1. Understanding formal and informal readmission agreements. – II.2. Informality in readmission agreements. – II.3. Functions of soft law in EU readmission policy. – II.4. Main features of informal readmission agreements. – III. The intersection between EU readmission policy and the informalisation trend. – III.1. Lack of conditions leading to hard law. – III.2. The quest for effectiveness in return policy. – IV. Informalisation and conditionality. – V. The disregard for human rights in readmission cooperation. – V.1. Readmitting failed asylum seekers to their war-torn country of origin. – V.2. Pushing back asylum seekers to a third country deemed “safe”. – VI. Conclusion: Eclipsing human rights protection under informal agreements.

Abstract: The informalisation trend in EU migration law-making is seen most often in EU readmission policy. Informal readmission agreements and multi-purpose agreements which include readmission objectives have multiplied with new third countries involved in the EU external relations on migration, beyond the EU Neighbourhood. In discussing the legal nature of informal agreements, this Article focuses on two main issues. First, the interplay between informal agreements and conditionality, with positive conditionality replaced by negative conditionality in a blind search for effectiveness in the EU return policy. Second, the use of informal agreements to return or push back asylum seekers are the epitome of the EU externalisation strategy. While informality is part and parcel of the EU readmission policy, increasing informalisation has significant unintended long-term effects, both for the European Union as an international organisation with law-making capacity, and for individuals in a field of law – migration – where human rights should be protected rather than frustrated.

Keywords: EU readmission policy – third-country cooperation – informality – informalisation – soft law – conditionality.

European Papers, Vol. 8, 2023, No 2, pp. 931-957
ISSN 2499-8249 - doi: 10.15166/2499-8249/695

* PhD Researcher in EU Migration Law, Université Catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain),
** Researcher, Forum of International and European Research on Immigration (FIERI),


European Forum


Forum Européen


Forum europeo


Foro Europeo