Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble
Minister of the Interior of the
Federal Republic of Germany
‘Key outcomes of the German Presidency of the EU
in the fields of immigration and asylum’
Ü Eurasylum: EU migration and asylum policy featured high on the agenda of the German Presidency of the EU, from January to June 2007. In particular, special emphasis was placed on the fight against illegal migration, the strengthening of practical cooperation among the Member States asylum agencies, the furthering of negotiations related to the adoption of a European strategy for legal immigration, and the development of an integration policy. Can you guide us through the main relevant initiatives and decisions taken under your Presidency in the field of migration and asylum?
Ü Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble: One of the major achievements of European integration is the ability to move and travel freely throughout most of the European Union and its Schengen partners (Norway, Iceland and soon Switzerland). But in order to prevent terrorists, smuggling rings and criminals from taking advantage of this freedom, checks at our common external borders must be that much more thorough and effective. One strategic goal of our Presidency was the further strengthening of the European border management agency Frontex, which is responsible for supporting and coordinating joint measures at the external borders taken by the Member States. We succeeded in expanding significantly the agency’s possibilities for action by adopting the Regulation establishing a mechanism for the creation of Rapid Border Intervention Teams. In future, for example, Frontex will be able to provide expert border police teams to help every Member State facing acute pressure from an increased volume of illegal migration.
Returning third-country nationals who have been refused entry or stay is a key element in the fight against illegal migration and makes it clear that the EU will not tolerate illegal migration. To do so, the EU needs to work closely with the illegal migrants countries of origin and transit. During the German Presidency, progress was made on the consultations regarding the Commission’s proposal for a directive on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals. The proposal is intended to ensure that the Member States follow, as far as possible, standard procedures when returning third-country nationals. Cooperation with countries of origin and transit was strengthened by concluding negotiations on readmission agreements between the Community and third countries. Negotiations with Serbia, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Moldova and Ukraine were completed during the German Presidency. The agreement with Russia entered into force on 1 June 2007.
At my invitation, the EU ministers responsible for integration met in Potsdam on 10 and 11 May. The conference concentrated on deepening European cooperation and the exchange of experience within the EU on integration policy issues and on promoting intercultural dialogue.
Ü Eurasylum: One of the key priorities of your Presidency in the field of migration and asylum was the strengthening of the Union’s external borders and the development of innovative concepts that combine preventive cooperation with countries of origin and transit with increased Community development assistance. In particular, the gradual implementation of the European Visa Information System (VIS), and progress on the development of the second generation of the Schengen Information System (SIS II), featured high on your Presidency’s agenda in the field of illegal migration. Can you outline and discuss, briefly, the main initiatives approved under your Presidency in these policy areas?
Ü Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble: We were able to bring the consultations on the Visa Information System (VIS) Regulation, which started in early 2005, to a successful conclusion. The resulting political consensus between the Council and the European Parliament on this legislation lays the necessary groundwork for the further expansion and launch of the VIS. In future, the Member States diplomatic missions abroad will be able to check every visa application to see whether the third-country applicant has already applied at other diplomatic missions and whether these applications were rejected, thus preventing visa shopping. The system will use biometric data to identify accurately persons who are refused entry to the European Union. This will also make it possible to identify people submitting visa applications under different names, in which case no visa would be issued. The VIS will simplify checks at the external borders and within the EU, as fingerprints will be checked to see whether the third-country national bearing the visa is the same person to whom the visa was originally issued. This will prevent illegal entry.
Another aim of our Presidency was to move ahead with connecting the new Member States to the joint Schengen system for police alerts. Connecting the new Member States that entered the EU on 1 May 2004 (except Cyprus) to the joint police information system is proceeding on schedule. This means, for example, that as from next year, all vehicles stolen in Germany will be listed in the notifications of stolen property in almost all the Member States. This will make it more difficult for gangs of car thieves to operate in Europe. In addition, the alert system contains a record of all those persons who are refused entry to the EU. This will prevent dangerous criminals and persons suspected of terrorist activity from entering Europe well before they approach Germany’s borders. By 2008 we will be able to travel to almost every EU Member State without having to undergo time-consuming border checks. Starting in 2008, our borders will have moved to the external boundaries of the EU, where they will be managed in line with the highest security standards. However, the Schengen Information System still needs to be improved further. For example, as from 2008, not only will the Schengen System extend to the new Member States, but its functions will also be significantly expanded. From late 2008, the second-generation Schengen alert system will enable all European police forces to share and check directly fingerprints and photos of criminal offenders.
Frontex has set up a centralised record of technical equipment aircraft, helicopters, ships and surveillance equipment which the Member States are willing to provide at short notice for temporary use. So far, the Member States have volunteered more than 20 aircraft, nearly 30 helicopters and well over 100 ships, as well as a large quantity of additional technical equipment. Not only does this save resources, it also ensures that sufficient technical equipment is available at all times to deal with urgent situations in our joint fight against illegal migration. Already in May, a joint patrol network in the Mediterranean was set up under Frontex coordination, with participation of Member States border police agencies. Since then, the Member States concerned have coordinated their patrols and have been able to protect the EU’s external sea borders in the Mediterranean much more effectively. This will help prevent migrants from risking their lives on dangerous sea crossings from Africa to Europe.
Ü Eurasylum: For the first time in the history of rotating EU Presidencies, an 18-month programme for the three successive German, Portuguese and Slovenian Presidencies was elaborated for the period of January 2007 to June 2008. Apart from the strengthening of cooperation among national asylum services and the evaluation of the first phase of EU asylum legislation, one of the key priorities for the three Presidencies is the implementation of the Global Approach to Migration. This includes extending and deepening dialogue among countries of origin, transit and destination and negotiating effective readmission agreements. It also entails ensuring a proper follow-up to the Commission’s report on legal migration, based on a coherent approach to economic migration and integration policy in the European Union. Can you sum up and discuss the key priorities of the 18-month programme in the field of migration and asylum?
Ü Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble: At our initiative key steps towards reorienting the European policy on migration were taken. The EU is seeking to build partnerships on migration and development with selected third countries. These partnerships will concentrate on establishing effective administrative structures in third countries, on readmission agreements, on possibilities for voluntary temporary, circular migration and mutual visa facilitation, as well as on lower remittance fees for migrants sending money home. Furthermore, future EU cooperation on migration and security issues will focus not only on Africa and the Mediterranean region, but also and in particular on the EU’s eastern and south-eastern neighbouring countries, since a significant proportion of illegal migrants enter Europe, and Germany in particular, via eastern and south-eastern smuggling routes. We will develop the policy on legal migration, based on the proposed Directives on the definition of common rights for third-country nationals in legal employment in the EU. We are also working on sanctions against employers of illegally staying third-country nationals.
During our Presidency, the first EU missions on migration and development visited Cape Verde, Ghana and Mauritania in May and June, with the aim of intensifying the dialogue with countries of origin and transit. The EU also met with Ukraine, one of the Community’s nearest and most important neighbours. We discussed progress made on cooperation on border management, migration and asylum and on the fight against organised crime. At the meeting, a working agreement between the European border management agency Frontex and the Ukrainian border guard service was signed.
In the field of intercultural dialogue, a system to exchange information and experience has been established at European level for the first time, at the initiative of the German Presidency. Germany will host the first two expert meetings with participants from interested Member States. Based on the meeting results, structures are to be created to allow rapid coordination at short notice on urgent problems. Also, at my invitation, the German Presidency hosted a meeting in Berlin with representatives of Europe’s major churches and religious communities.