Dr Robert Visser
Executive Director of the European
Asylum Support Office (EASO)
“EASO’s on-going activities to support the completion
of a Common European Asylum System”
Ü Eurasylum: The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) was established by Regulation (EU) No 439/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 May 2010, and became fully operational in June 2011. Its role is to contribute to the creation of a Common European Asylum System (CEAS), by fostering practical cooperation among Member States, supporting Member States under “particular asylum pressure”, and collecting and exchanging information on best practices in the field of EU asylum policy. Can you guide us through the EASO’s key activities and possible outputs to date?
Ü Dr Robert Visser:: EASO is an independent centre of expertise, support and solidarity. The aim of EASO is to strengthen practical cooperation among Member States on asylum and to support national asylum systems, thereby contributing to the development and implementation of a Common European Asylum System (CEAS). EASO facilitates, coordinates and strengthens cooperation among Member States on the many aspects of asylum, such as: providing practical and operational support to Member States; providing operational support to Member States subject to particular pressure on their asylum systems, including the coordination of asylum support teams made up of asylum experts; and providing scientific and technical assistance for EU policy-making and legislation in all areas having a direct or indirect impact on asylum.
EASO’s support can be categorised as follows:
1) Permanent-support: supporting and stimulating common high quality of the asylum process by: common training, common asylum curriculum, common services, tailor made assistance and capacity building and quality-control processes.
2) Emergency-support: organising solidarity for Member States confronted with particular pressures by providing temporary support and assistance to readjust or to rebuild the asylum system.
3) Information-support: collecting, sharing and processing information and data, analysis and assessment, not only by comparing and sharing information, but also through common trend analysis and common assessment, e.g. common Country of Origin Information.
4) Solidarity-support: assisting Member States in resettlement and relocation.
5) External Dimension: supporting the external dimension, through partnerships with third countries to reach common solutions, e.g. through capacity-building and regional protection programmes.
Since the first half of 2011, EASO has been active on various fronts, in particular on the provision of training and quality, Country of Origin Information (COI), setting up an early Warning and Preparedness System, providing emergency support when needed, and setting up the EASO organisation.
Moreover, the JHA Council of March 2012 has entrusted EASO with a number of new tasks, mainly those related to the implementation of the early warning, preparedness and crisis mechanism. In this context, EASO provides regional outlook, analysis of asylum trends and push-pull factors, as well as risk-scenarios. While EASO retains its primary role of supporting Member States facing particular pressures, it also offers various tools aimed at supporting Member States to be fully prepared, e.g through training. Moreover, EASO is currently participating actively in the full evaluation of the Pilot Project for intra-EU Relocation from Malta (EUREMA).
Ü Eurasylum: The EC Communication on enhanced intra-EU solidarity in the field of asylum [COM(2011) 835 final] states that ”the impact of the EASO will depend on the Member States’ willingness to use the possibilities it offers and on their commitment to engage in such collaboration. It will be necessary to set up a regular practice of European collaboration between national asylum authorities”. Can you comment on the current state of development of EU cooperation among national asylum systems in the Member States, and on the benefits and challenges which such cooperation entails?
Ü Dr Robert Visser:: The need for cooperation, enhanced responsibility and mutual trust in the field of asylum has always been the subject of much debate in the EU. EASO has been created to boost cooperation amongst Member States and, through the different tools that it offers, to foster an atmosphere of trust and responsibility within a Common European Asylum System. There is still some way to go, but the mere fact that EASO has been established has taken the cooperation to a new level.
Since EASO is an instrument of solidarity, its success depends on the willingness of Member States both to contribute and to participate in EASO activities. Due to increased convergence at EU level, in particular on the legislative level, the need for practical cooperation among Member States has taken a new dimension. EASO’s ongoing training of EU officials is a clear example of how the European asylum authorities have come together to enhance their common knowledge and standards. Another example is the Asylum Intervention Pool made up of Member States experts that can be deployed to support other Member States facing particular pressures, as was the case with Greece and Luxembourg. In general, national asylum authorities are always willing to cooperate with each other. EASO’s role is to coordinate this cooperation and to develop practical cooperation tools, using also lessons learned from previous experiences and projects, as vehicles for such cooperation. One things is clear: without cooperation, solidarity, mutual trust and responsibility, there cannot be a well functioning Common European Asylum System.
Ü Eurasylum: The same EC Communication on intra-EU solidarity indicates that “one of the common tools that the EASO needs to investigate, as invited by the Stockholm Programme, are procedures facilitating the secondment of officials between Member States to help Member States that face particular pressures. To this end, the EASO should create a pool of experts, case workers and interpreters who could be mobilised at short notice in order to provide assistance to a Member State in need”. Can you highlight some of the activities which EASO has already initiated in this area, and their possible outcomes? Also, what is the EASO’s contribution to the current debate on the possible establishment of an intra-EU relocation scheme, and on the possible design of an EU system for the joint processing of asylum claims?
Ü Dr Robert Visser:: Member States under particular pressure may request EASO to deploy an asylum support team (AST). These are multidisciplinary teams of experts deployed – upon request – by EASO for a limited period of time in order to support a Member State under particular pressure. The teams are drawn from a pool of Member State experts – the so-called Asylum Intervention Pool (AIP). Currently the AIP includes around 350 experts from 21 Member States. ASTs have already been deployed to Greece and Luxembourg. I can decide to deploy the ASTs at the request of a Member State faced with particular pressure. EASO and the requesting Member State will agree on an operating plan laying down the mission and actions to be implemented by the AST.
As regards the debate on the possible establishment of an intra-EU relocation scheme, the EASO regulation gives my agency the role of promoting, facilitating and coordinating exchanges of information and other activities related to relocation within the Union. In our work programme for this year, a number of actions are foreseen with respect to relocation. Furthermore, as requested by the JHA Council of March 2012, EASO is actively participating in the full evaluation of the Pilot Project for intra-EU Relocation from Malta (EUREMA) that is being carried out by the European Commission.
As regards the possible design of an EU system for the joint processing of asylum claims, the debate in this area is delicate and a number of important legal and administrative issues – including financial and practical considerations – deserve careful consideration. It goes without saying that joint processing of asylum claims would be an important solidarity tool, in particular for those Member States facing particular pressures. It could also be a way through which Member States could transfer best practices to each other, and EASO could have an important role in coordinating this. Joint processing requires ehanced mutual trust among Member States and also a high level of responsibility. Judging from the level of cooperation in the field of asylum that I witness every day in my job, I am hopeful that joint processing of asylum cases, under the right conditions, can become a reality.