Minister of the Interior of
the Republic of Finland
Key priorities for Finland’s Presidency of the EU in
the field of immigration and asylum
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: During the Austrian Presidency of the EU, which ended on 30 June 2006, a number of key decisions were adopted to enhance practical cooperation between Member States in the field of asylum policy, primarily by improving the exchange of information on countries of origin and work on a plan for the establishment of an EU support team. Additional activities have included enhancing cooperation with non-member states on asylum and immigration issues, including through the launch of the pilot regional protection programmes; pushing for the introduction of common visa application offices; and developing measures for an effective repatriation policy. Could you guide us through the key priorities of Finland’s EU Presidency, over the next six months, in the field of immigration and asylum?
Ü Kari Rajamäki: Strengthening the EU as an area of freedom, security and justice is our common goal. During the forthcoming EU Presidency, Finland – together with the Commission, European Parliament, the future Presidencies and the other member states will aim to further the EU’s partnership with countries of origin, the common European asylum system, the equal treatment of third-country nationals and the management of migration flows in the spirit of Tampere. We shall continue the valuable work of the preceding Presidencies in implementing the commitments of Tampere and The Hague.
In my view there are three main areas or sectors of focus during our Presidency: i) furthering progress towards achieving a common European asylum system, including by looking at ways to improve the functioning of the system; ii) harmonising the return policies of the member states; and iii) management of migration flows and a comprehensive approach to the prevention of illegal immigration.
During our Presidency, we will continue the work aimed at strengthening practical cooperation and information exchange between the members states asylum authorities, on the basis of the Commission’s proposals. This work has already begun during the Austrian Presidency.
In order to identify ways to secure and improve the functioning of the existing asylum systems, we will look forward to the Commission’s evaluation of the Dublin regulation. The responsibility-sharing mechanism created by this regulation is an important step towards the common European asylum system and, in my view, it is important to ensure its uniform application in all the member states. On the basis of the Commission’s evaluation, we will continue to work to that end during our Presidency.
With regard to the return policies of the member states, there is a lot of work to be done. Currently the level of harmonisation in the area of immigration and asylum policy is relatively low: the member states norms and procedures still vary widely, which in practice results in several problematic issues, one of which is the increasing number of persons circulating from one EU member state to another in search of protection. Our goal should be to achieve a durable solution for a person residing illegally in the Union. This in practice means that the person in question should either be given a right to reside or he/she should be returned to his/her country of origin. Respect for human rights and the basic freedoms of the person to be returned is one of the most important elements to be kept in mind as we strive towards the harmonisation of return policies and procedures. I would also like to emphasise the importance of cooperating with the countries of origin and transit in this context. On issues of return, Finland will also, during its Presidency, continue the discussions on the so-called return directive. We also support the Commission in its readmission negotiations.
The problem of illegal immigration, together with the fact that the EU’s population is ageing and that the EU is increasingly in need of further labour immigration, is a considerable challenge for the Union. These questions are also linked with the difficult interrelationship between migration and development. It is clear that the EU needs to take concrete actions to prevent illegal immigration and the trafficking of human beings, while at the same time ensuring full respect of the human rights of those who are in genuine need of protection. During our Presidency, we look forward to discussing the future steps which the EU should take to prevent illegal migration, on the basis of the Commission’s forthcoming Communication. On the other hand, we will take forward the work scheduled for next autumn on the EU Action Plan on trafficking.
On issues of legal migration, discussions within the EU have been going on for quite some time now, particularly since publication of the Commission’s Green Paper on economic migration, and the adoption of the Policy Plan on Legal Migration in December 2005. As I mentioned before, it is important that the questions related to legal migration are examined in an EU context, alongside measures to prevent illegal migration. However, in examining possible future avenues in this area, I think we should try to focus on the identification of solutions that allow for sufficient flexibility at the national level, since this has traditionally been a policy area that has been regarded as central to national sovereignty.
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: At the EU Justice and Home Affairs Councils of 21 February and 27-28 April 2006, it was recognised that in order to complete the Common European Asylum System, there was a need to harmonise both legislation and practice. Practical cooperation should contribute, in particular, to the necessary convergence in decision-making and thus should enhance the quality and efficiency of the asylum systems of Member States. The Council also considered that in order to establish a Single Procedure, where the two types of international protection status set out in the Qualification Directive are considered under one procedure, there was a need to evaluate what Member States needed to do to unify the two procedures, including any amendments to first stage legislation where necessary. Finally, it was acknowledged that accurate and easily accessible Country of Origin Information, and common guidelines, were essential to enable fair decisions on asylum claims. Could you outline Finland’s policy priorities and planned actions to help finalise the establishment of the single asylum procedure in all the member states, and to strengthen the quality and accessibility of country of origin information systems?
Ü Kari Rajamäki: The availability of accurate country of origin information is crucial to the decision-making process in the area of asylum. It affects both the quality and efficiency of the asylum systems of the member states. Finland sees the sharing of information on countries of origin as an important condition to uniform decision-making on asylum, and thus to the development of the common European asylum system. During our Presidency we will support the Commission in its work to establish a common portal on country of origin information, as well as on solving translation problems and preparing common guidelines on country of origin information.
In Finland, protection under a single procedure is not only considered on the basis of the two types of international protection status set out in the EU Qualification Directive, but also on any other grounds for issuing a residence permit. Finland recommends the establishment of the single procedure in all the member states and supports the Commission in its on-going efforts to evaluate, consult and analyse what member states need to do to unify their asylum procedures.