The tension between universal human rights commitments and particular interests of the EU or its Member States is at the heart of the creation of a common asylum system. This article explores some of the inherent and structural contradictions as well as the sometimes hidden paradoxes that affect the creation of common asylum policies. The development of the European asylum system is examined as a process of including and excluding. It is argued that open, abstract and empty human rights commitments can provide only limited guidance on how to develop migration and asylum policies in Europe. We should not try to hide the development of the European asylum system behind the obscurity of legal reasoning or institutionalized rights language, but see the emerging common asylum system as a result of different and often conflicting priorities, power struggles and ideological influences.