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Migrants and Refugees: A EU Perspective on Upholding Human Rights through Taxation and Public Finance

Migrants and Refugees: A EU Perspective on Upholding Human Rights through Taxation and Public Finance

Cristina Trenta*

The full text of this article may be found in PDF form here.


The European Union (“EU”) proclaimed the year 2015 as the year for development. The EU is working hard to enhance development within Europe and within developing countries. Development is currently one of the focus areas at the European and at the international level. In the EU Joint Declaration on Consensus on Development, the EU Parliament lists a series of areas of law that affect development. Immigration law is an important topic to tackle within development,5 together with the provision of sustainable solutions for refugees.6 The EU strives to make “migration a positive factor for development.” The EU Commission supported this view in their recent document “A Global Partnership for Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development.”

The need to integrate migration policies into development policies has also been suggested by the EU Commission in another document discussing the development-migration nexus and maintaining that refugees and other migrants can result in positive assets for the national economies.

The interconnections between migrants, refugees, and development is an area of intervention and research which is very well explored in doctrine: the same cannot be said unfortunately of the links these factors have to tax law and public finance, even though systematic investigations of this interplay is attracting considerable European and international attention in the specific field of tax law.

This Paper aims to provide an initial survey of the problems that connect taxation and public finance to current migration and refugee policies. It then discusses the existing EU obligations in the light of both European and international regulations and constraints in the area and concludes by illustrating the role taxation could play in supporting solutions to the refugee and migrant crisis that are respectful of the principles adopted by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, with the goal of providing benchmarks for further analysis and an initial platform for possible improvements in the light of future reforms.


Concerns for social justice are nowadays strongly intertwined with concerns about immigration flows. The migrant and refugee phenomenon currently experienced in Europe is alarming because of the unpreparedness of both the EU and the individual EU Member States in dealing with the massive social and governance issues that the unrelenting inflow of people presents.

In 2015, one million individuals entered the EU creating an unprecedented humanitarian crisis with enormous political repercussions. The EU Commission recognized that, albeit reactions were timely, they fell collectively short of managing the situation, leading to the recent set up of the Agenda on Migration of the EU. It has been estimated that currently more than sixty million people have been coercively pushed out of their countries because of conflicts or natural disasters.

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*Cristina Trenta, Dr., Dr., Docent, Associate Professor, Tax law, Örebro University (Sweden). The author is thankful to Prof. Dr. Bertil Wiman and the Uppsala Center for Tax Law, supported by Deloitte, EY, KPMG, Mannheimer Swartling, PwC, Skeppsbron Skatt, Svalner, for their financial assistance in the final stages of research.