Minister of the Interior of
the Republic of Cyprus
“Key priorities of the Cyprus Presidency of the European Union
in the fields of immigration and asylum policy”
Ü Eurasylum: The Republic of Cyprus has assumed this week the Presidency of the Council of the EU. Can you guide us through your key priorities in the fields of immigration and asylum?
Ü Eleni Mavrou: The Republic of Cyprus has assumed the Presidency of the Council of the EU under very difficult and volatile circumstances as regards issues of immigration and asylum. Global economic developments and the emerging situation in North Africa and the Middle East have brought to the surface major challenges for the EU in the areas of freedom, security and justice. A comprehensive, coherent and long-term EU approach is needed to address these challenges, which call for stronger and better cooperation between the Member States, based on mutual trust and solidarity.
In this respect the Cyprus Presidency considers the completion of a Common European Asylum System (CEAS), based on high protection standards, as well as fair and effective procedures in order to prevent abuses and allow for rapid examination of asylum applications, to be the overarching priority for the EU in the fields of immigration and asylum. The Presidency will aim to complete the work on the CEAS by the end of 2012, as foreseen by the Stockholm Programme and as confirmed by the European Council in June 2011. During the first half of 2012, the Council preparatory bodies have already conducted a number of discussions on the different issues that form the Common European Asylum System. To this end, the Presidency will strive to finalise the outstanding legislative proposals.
Another area that we consider to be of great significance for the future of the EU is that of Europe’s demographic prospects. Europe’s demographic challenges call for a comprehensive EU migration policy, based on common admission procedures and fair treatment of third-country nationals. The development of an EU legal framework on migration is a vital component of this comprehensive EU migration policy. Such policy can contribute to the future prosperity of both the EU and the countries of origin of migrants. The Presidency will, therefore, devote considerable efforts to reach an agreement on the proposals concerning the procedures regulating the entry, temporary stay and residence of Intra-Corporate Transferees (ICTs) as well as the entry and residence conditions for seasonal workers.
At the same time, successful integration is key to maximising the benefits of immigration both for the receiving societies and for migrants themselves, in terms of economic development and social cohesion. In light of this, the Presidency will promote the cooperation between member states and relevant stakeholders with a view to enhancing local governance in order to make better use of the potential of integration.
As far as the external dimension of migration and asylum is concerned, the Presidency will focus on the implementation of the renewed Global Approach to Migration and Mobility, which was presented by the Commission and endorsed by the Council. Emphasis will be placed on establishing and strengthening cooperation with key countries of origin. Considering the latest developments in the southern neighbouring countries, the Presidency will actively support efforts to continue the dialogue on migration, mobility and security with countries of the eastern and southern Mediterranean.
In addition, the Cyprus Presidency will continue to address challenges in relation to irregular immigration, in full respect of fundamental rights, freedoms and human dignity. To this end, the Presidency will follow closely the implementation of the ”EU Action on Migratory Pressures – A Strategic Response” and will ensure, if need be, that the necessary follow up actions are taken. Furthermore, the Presidency will work towards the completion of readmission agreements with key countries of transit and origin.
Ü Eurasylum: One of the key challenges of your Presidency will be the completion, by December this year, of a Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Can you discuss the key tenets of your work programme, and any pending issues, related to this major policy objective?
Ü Eleni Mavrou: The Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is a commitment of Member States by virtue of the Lisbon Treaty, which in its article 78 stipulates, among other things, that the Union shall set up a uniform status for asylum and subsidiary protection as well as common rules for granting and withdrawing international protection status. This obligation is made even more explicit in the so-called Stockholm Programme whereby member states pledge to establish a common asylum procedure and a uniform status for those who are granted asylum or subsidiary protection by 2012 at the latest.
Former EU presidencies, namely Poland and Denmark, have already made substantial progress on the various legislative pieces needed. Cyprus’ role, nevertheless, remains crucial, insofar as, despite a general agreement on the need for the Union to keep its promises, there are still discrepancies among Union institutions and member states as to the degree and the speed of integration in the field of asylum. The Cyprus presidency, therefore, will set its priorities on wrapping up all pending issues, both in substance, i.e. in differences still existing on the legislative texts and formal, i.e. in completing negotiations with the other institutions, in particular the European Parliament.
It must, however, be made clear that this is no easy task: not only because it requires that member states pool part of their sovereignty and competences in the field of asylum but also because the current financial crisis has led many member states to apply measures of austerity in all their actions, including asylum procedures. The Cyprus presidency, as a result, is expected to facilitate the adoption of legislation which will achieve, as required by the Stockholm Programme, “high protection standards” for those deserving it, and “fair and effective procedures capable of preventing abuse” without any extra administrative or financial cost for member states.
Parallel to the above we will place great emphasis on increasing effective solidarity between Union member states. The disproportionate increase in mixed migration flows and the ensuing pressures on the asylum systems, as well as on welfare and law-enforcing structures of member states, cannot be dealt with by the Union only through finger pointing but also through tangible demonstration of Union solidarity.
The European Union has been built as a solidarity union, and indeed, one of the fundamental problems it has to face up to, today, is exactly the limits of such solidarity – not only on asylum matters but elsewhere, too. All member states have agreed that it is necessary to emphasise more strongly the need for solidarity between member states in the future.
Solidarity means, firstly, that member states in the center of the territory of the Union acknowledge that member states in the periphery (in particular Mediterranean countries) do not only guard and protect their own borders but also the external borders of the Union. Hence, the burden for the effective protection of the Union’s borders should not only fall on the member states that have external borders in the Union. In this area, the Union has made, during these last years, significant steps – with the setting up of FRONTEX and common missions and border protection teams. This also means that other member states accept to share part of the social and administrative burden for the reception, detention, possibly the examination of the asylum applications and the removal of persons entering a member state. This latter dimension is much less developed in the EU: solidarity, here, is expressed mainly in financial terms (e.g. EU funds made available for the reception and removal of third-country nationals) rather than in political terms (i.e. transferring the reception and examination of asylum applications to other member states). Despite the objections of member states which have to suffer the consequences of irregular migration flows, dealing with these problems still remains a matter for the member state where migrants entered because other member states hesitate or are even unwilling to involve themselves in such areas. Our presidency will put emphasis on this latter dimension, aiming for the Union to provide solidarity which will have substantial and not only financial features.
Ü Eurasylum: Another key priority of your Presidency will be to enhance measures to facilitate the integration of immigrants into their EU hosting societies. Can you outline your main objectives and planned actions in this area?
Ü Eleni Mavrou: Integration of immigrants is one of the issues that Cyprus wishes to highlight during its Presidency. The composition of the EU’s population is changing while at the same time Europe is strongly influenced by demographic changes, including an ageing population, a longer life expectancy and a declining working-age population. European societies are therefore faced with increasing diversity and demographic pressure. These challenges should be addressed and in doing so we need to realise the full benefits of regulated migration. To achieve this and maximize the benefits of migration, successful integration has a key role to play. Successfully integrating immigrants in the host societies can contribute not only to the development of a more cohesive society characterised by more responsibility and solidarity, but also to economic prosperity and development in both the destination countries and the countries of origin.
In addition, we should consider that, as stated in the Common Basic Principles for immigrant integration policy, integration is a dynamic interactive process of mutual interaction. Therefore, our policies need to take account of the need to balance rights and obligations of immigrants. Greater commitment is required by both the host societies and the immigrants themselves in order to strengthen social cohesion, establish equal treatment and commit to democratic values and to the basic principles of European law and the law of the member states. To reach our goals, successful integration policies require the enhancement of infrastructures, instruments and tools of exchange and coordination between the member states, especially in relevant policy areas such as employment, education and social inclusion.
Although integration is not an area of EU competence, there is no doubt that measures can be established according to Article 79.4 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU in providing incentives and support for the action of the Member States. The EU and the member states can therefore actively promote integration policies, for instance through policy coordination, exchange of knowledge and financial support. Most recently, in December 2011, the Council reaffirmed its determination to further address challenges in this respect following the European Commission’s Communication of July 2011 on an updated European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals. The commitment of the member states to further develop the core idea of integration has been repeatedly confirmed and we should not forget to welcome the significant and concrete progress which was made through a series of important measures that have been adopted and implemented in the recent years.
Especially under the present conditions of economic crisis and the accompanying phenomena of extremism and xenophobia, the Cyprus Presidency wishes to focus on integration also in order to give emphasis to the urgent need for the member states to intensify cooperation to address these most pressing challenges, and to work further on the agenda on integration. It is an unfortunate finding that even after decades of settlement, many immigrants still suffer economic and social disadvantages, are excluded from civic and political participation and face discrimination, racism and xenophobia. This marginalisation can make them easy targets for far right rhetorics which may gain increasing support by exploiting fears and inciting resentment. Under misleading appeals public attitudes tend to turn against immigrants especially in times when social welfare provisions are rolled back and exclusion emerges as a real threat for many. The world has experienced this in a most fatal way. Under circumstances of economic, social and even physical insecurity, the tasks of learning to appreciate diversity and manage differences through coherent integration policies appear particularly challenging.
The issue of integration will be the main discussion topic on the agenda of an Expert Conference that the Cyprus Presidency will organize in Nicosia on 20 November. Since integration is a process that in reality happens on the ground, where people live and work, the Conference will examine in particular the role of the local and regional authorities in shaping and implementing integration policies. In particular, it is important that integration policies are developed with a genuine “bottom-up” approach. To this end, not only the local and regional authorities are engaged in the formulation and implementation of policies, but also the receiving society and the immigrants themselves are involved. For that reason, the conference participants will include both officials from all levels of governance, and representatives of civil society, scholars and other stakeholders. We are confident that a range of topics set on the agenda, such as addressing the improvement in multi-level cooperation, examining how to appropriately communicate about migration and migrants, and promoting civil and civic participation, will stimulate active and productive discussions.