Robert J.E. Evans
Member of the European Parliament; Vice-Chairman of the European Parliament’s
Committee on Citizens’ Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs
‘Key achievements and challenges in the process of completion of
a Common European Asylum System’
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: May 2004 is a pivotal month for EU justice and home affairs, in view of both the deadline set by the Amsterdam Treaty for completion of the first stage in the creation of an area of freedom, security and justice, and the enlargement of the EU to 25 member states. In the field of immigration and asylum, what, in your view, have been the most important accomplishments, and the possible drawbacks, in implementing and meeting the targets established under the Amsterdam Treaty and the Tampere I mandate?
Ü Robert J.E. Evans: The development of a European area of freedom, security and justice is an important and necessary step forward for tackling Europe-wide issues, specifically concerning the need for harmonised and fair immigration and asylum policies. In the period running up to the monumental enlargement of the Union there have been some positive progressions in the management of immigration and asylum. The Tampere conclusions called for ‘greater coherence of internal and external policies of the Union’. Recent initiatives have contributed towards this, such as securing better standards for people entering the Union seeking refuge and the significant agreement on the reunification of families. These have been positive steps forward, showing the willingness in Europe to see progress towards common asylum and immigration policies.
There have also been some areas of policy which have been particularly slow. As Justice and Home affairs issues have been carried out under consultation and are only now moving to Co-Decision, the more liberal voice of the European Parliament has been marginalised and may not have produced legislation which would make for more effective and representative policy. Fortunately this is changing.
In addition, the introduction of Qualified Majority Voting in the European Council will speed the process up and help to unblock areas where there is currently stagnation. The main example is the creation of a Common European Asylum Policy. At the same time it is vital that there is successful co-ordination concerning immigration, which must not mean settling for the lowest common denominator. The reactionary policies, which some governments have felt obliged to take due to media scare stories, especially concerning immigration after an enlarged Europe, have been regrettable in the advancement of securing the targets which the Union has established.
Europe needs a fully functioning Common Asylum Policy, understood and enforced by all 25 countries. At the same time, in parallel, but separate, we need to have a Common Policy for Legal Migration.
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: Under the last two EU Presidencies, a number of legal instruments, such as the Dublin II Regulation, the Directive on minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers, the Directive on the right to family reunification and the Directive on the status of third-country nationals who are long term residents, have been finalised. What are the key targets set by the Irish and Dutch Presidencies on the legislative and policy fronts in the field of immigration and asylum, particularly as regards the mandate of the December Brussels European Council and outstanding issues relating to the Asylum Qualifications and Procedures Directives?
Ü Robert J.E. Evans: The deadlines set by the Amsterdam Treaty and the Tampere mandate are both due to end during the Irish and Dutch Presidencies. Therefore the targets of these agreements have shaped the outlook of the Irish Presidency and will force the Dutch Presidency (in the second half of 2004) to seek a fresh outlook in preparation for Tampere II. One of the main targets has been to resolve the outstanding issue of Asylum Qualifications and Procedures, as a key element of the Common Asylum Policy, towards which the Union is working. However this has been slow and it is a particularly difficult area, especially concerning the scope, the legal assistance for applicants and the application of the safe-country of origin principle. The adoption of this has not been fulfilled as quickly as it was hoped but this must be a main target for the Dutch Presidency.
The key priority now is to agree the right procedures and codes of practice for illegal immigration and the integration of migrants into society. The priority set by the Irish presidency of taking forward the implementation of the Return Action Programme and the development of Common Readmission Policies are essential goals that need to be reached.
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: What, in your opinion, should be the key directions to be assigned to the Tampere II mandate and what are the most important challenges likely to affect the transfer of the EU immigration and asylum acquis to the new Member States?
Ü Robert J.E. Evans: The Tampere II mandate is a vital opportunity to move the Justice and Home Affairs agenda forward. It should mainly concentrate on building the Common European Asylum Policy. The resurgence of the far right in Europe has raised the profile of immigration and asylum issues. This increasingly highlights the need to promote fair and humane asylum policies without giving into ill-informed press campaigns following a general trend throughout the EU. This needs to be the main focus of the new Tampere mandate.
With the EU enlargement, the most important challenge in the area of immigration and asylum policy implementation is the weaknesses of some of the new external borders. Freedom of movement is an essential part of the Union but it needs to be effectively managed in a fair and informed way, so that no person who is in need of refuge is left unprotected. At the same time, we must allow workers to cross borders where they have been doing so for years.