Vice-President of the European Commission and
Commissioner responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security
Recent and unfolding developments on EU asylum and immigration policy
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: During the Luxembourg Presidency, the European Commission launched its five-year Action Plan for Freedom, Justice and Security, which aims to develop concrete actions, including a timetable for their adoption and implementation, to operationalise the Hague Programme. Amongst the 10 key areas for priority action identified in the Action Plan, four relate, directly, to issues of migration and asylum. These include the definition of a balanced approach to migration management, entailing a common immigration policy at Union level, and the further strengthening of the fight against illegal migration and the trafficking in human beings; the further development of a system of integrated management of external borders and a common visa policy, not infringing on the free movement of people; the establishment of a common asylum area taking account of the humanitarian tradition and respect of international obligations of the Union and the need to secure the effectiveness of a harmonised procedure; and the adoption of incentive measures to help Member States deliver better policies on integration, with a view to maximising the positive impact of migration on society and the economy. Can you guide us through, briefly, the main policy significance and expected outcomes of the above key priorities, including with regard to the Framework Programme on Solidarity and the Management of Migration for the period 2007-2013?
Ü Franco Frattini: In November 2004, the Heads of State and Government formulated the second multi-annual programme for Justice, Freedom and Security, known as The Hague Programme, establishing the main orientations for the next five years.
The Commission prepared an Action Plan developing the Hague Programme, which was approved by the JHA Council and presented to the European Council, and which will, in effect, constitute our road map for the next five years.
The Action Plan lists concrete measures, and each measure is accompanied by a precise deadline in order to better plan the development of an area of freedom, security and justice and monitor its progress. More than 80 legislative proposals are included in the Action Plan, of which 32 will be realised in 2005. The Action Plan involves policy areas which are central to citizens, as they have a direct impact on their daily lives. In particular these include asylum, immigration and integration policies. As I cannot present all the details here, I would like to invite anyone who is interested to have a close look at this concrete list of measures on our website.
Regarding asylum and immigration, the Action Plan points the way towards a common European asylum system and a new approach to migration management. The ultimate decision as to how many migrants may be accepted in each Member State must of course remain a national decision. But we need a policy mix which takes into account the economic and demographic evolution of Europe, and enhances the fight against illegal migration and trafficking in human beings.
We cannot speak of immigration without touching upon the integration of immigrants: my concern is that our societies enjoy the benefits of immigration, and that the persons who come to the European Union in search of better conditions should do so in safety and tranquillity. We need to avoid isolation and social exclusion of immigrant communities, and encourage exchanges of experience and information between Member States.
Partnership with third countries of origin and transit is also of the utmost importance, in order to address the causes of immigration. A dialogue on migration issues, also touching sometimes on development aspects, has been going on with a number of third countries in the EU’s neighbourhood. Migration is also increasingly part of the dialogue between the EU and ACP countries, both in a bilateral and regional context. Although the dialogue on migration issues has just started with some countries, it has already contributed to a better understanding of the migration and development dimension and allowed a number of developing countries to highlight issues, such as the mobilisation of diasporas, as priorities that should be the focus of Community assistance in the future. Other issues that are likely to be addressed in the framework of such dialogue include facilitating migrants remittances or mitigating the impact of brain drain on developing countries.
Regarding external borders and a common visa policy the establishment of an External Borders Management Agency (FRONTEX) has been extremely important, as are the proposed border management fund and the future creation of teams of national experts to work within the framework of the FRONTEX Agency. Concerning visa policy, work is to proceed in several areas, such as document security (using biometric identifiers) and looking at the possibility of establishing common visa offices in the long term. We have also adopted the proposal for a Visa Information System, which will prove a powerful tool in controlling our borders and in minimising the phenomenon of visa shopping.
Since I took up office, I have always called for a holistic approach to migration. I have underlined that Community action must fit smoothly into a genuine management of migration issues, requiring clear consolidation of legal immigration channels and of the situation of legal immigrants, the fight against illegal immigration, an effective and fair asylum system based on rapid procedures offering access to true protection for those needing it, enhanced dialogue with third countries which will increasingly be invited to be partners in dealing with migration, and vigorous integration policies.
On 1 September, the Commission adopted an important and comprehensive package of four concrete measures touching upon return, integration, migration and development and regional protection programmes. This package approach of linking interrelated issues is a good example of how I want to steer European migration policy development in the years to come.
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: In January 2005, the Commission launched a wide public debate on the future of the EU’s common legal migration policy, with publication of the Green Paper on an EU Approach to Managing Economic Migration (COM(2004) 811 final), which discusses the possible rules that should be adopted at EU level for the admission of migrants for paid and self-employment, and on the added value of having such a European approach. The Green Paper was guided by the fact that, as a result of demographic change in the EU, an overall decline in employment is expected as from 2010, with a fall in the number of employed people between 2010 and 2030 in the order of 20 million workers. Key issues related to the establishment of a EU common legal migration policy include: the degree of harmonisation of national policies and legislation within the EU; the admission procedures for paid and self-employment; issues of Community preference; the type of applications for work/residence permits; the possibility of changing employer/sector; the migrant workers rights; and the type of accompanying measures, in relation to such issues as integration, return and cooperation with third countries. As requested by the Hague Programme, the Commission will present a policy plan on legal migration, including on admission procedures, by the end of 2005. Can you outline, briefly, the key tenets of your forthcoming Plan, particularly as regards the range of common principles that will be established while respecting the member states’ responsibilities under the subsidiarity principle; the possibility of establishing a common fast-track procedure in case of urgent needs for certain categories of non-EU labour; the possible establishment of what some commentators have termed a European green card; and issues related to the EU’s capacity to attract the highest skilled migrants?
Ü Franco Frattini: The Green paper on an EU approach to managing economic migration represented, as you rightly said, the starting point of a vast debate that took place during the whole of the first semester of this year and that involved a broad spectrum of stakeholders, from the Member States and the other EU institutions to the social partners, third-countries and civil society, including migrants associations. The interest and response we have had to the issues raised and the questions put in this document were far beyond what we expected, and confirmed the Commission’s firm belief that this was a discussion we urgently needed to have in an open and transparent way at EU level. The Commission has in fact received almost 130 contributions, most of them of great quality, and the public hearing that took place on 14 June 2005, closing the official phase of the public consultation, was a clear success in terms of participation, of the level of the debate and of coverage.
As you well know, my intention with the publication of the Green Paper was to re-launch, on a new and different basis, a process that had come to a dead end following the stalling of the negotiations on the 2001 proposal for a directive on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for paid and self employment. In fact, the Commission received a clear mandate by the Heads of State and Government who, with the adoption of The Hague Programme, clearly asked us to take into account the results of this public consultation, together with the best practices in the Member States and the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy, as a basis for a policy plan on legal migration, including admission procedures capable of responding promptly to fluctuating demands for migrant labour in the labour market. I intend to respect fully this request and to have the policy plan adopted before the end of 2005.
As you might well understand, I cannot for the time being go into the details of what I will propose in December next. Having said this, I would anyway like to stress that it is my firm belief that this plan, which will take the form of a Communication of the Commission explaining what we will propose in the coming years, cannot just address economic migration, but will need to focus also on what the Green Paper called accompanying measures. It will thus translate into concrete measures the concept that I have always stressed in the past few months, i.e. that the EU needs to have a comprehensive approach to the management of migration flows, thus addressing all the different aspects of this phenomenon. Yet another step in this direction has been taken with the adoption of the migration package, but we must continue with new proposals and new ideas.
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: The Commission is about to launch two pilot Regional Protection Programmes (RPP), one in the Great Lake region and one in eastern Europe, which will aim to focus funding on relief, rehabilitation and regional development in a bid to build capacity in countries which can host large numbers of Europe bound refugees. RPPs will provide support to such measures as the provision of registration and protection services, cooperation on legal migration matters and agreements on returns of failed asylum seekers or illegal immigrants to countries outside the EU. Regional Protection Programmes are the Commission’s response to earlier proposals for the establishment of Transit Processing Centres to handle asylum applicants before they enter the EU. Can you describe the main mechanisms at play in the RPPs, including the ways and areas in which regional protection programmes are expected to maximise the protection benefits and the overall impact of the EU resettlement activities foreseen by the Hague Programme?
Ü Franco Frattini: Throughout the development of the EU joint efforts on asylum, the Commission has consistently underlined the need to embrace the wider picture of global protection needs. Asylum is a challenge that can only be tackled effectively if we try to ensure that those who need protection are able to access it as quickly as possible and as closely as possible to their needs.
There is a clear need for better targeting and coordination of EU policies, in partnership with third countries, to deal more effectively with the root causes and to provide durable solutions to resolve refugee situations.
The Communication on Regional Protection Programmes (RPPs), which I have proposed on the 1st of September, intends to contribute to the achievement of these objectives. The aim of these first two pilot Regional Protection Programmes is to deliver direct benefits to refugees as well as to contribute to the improvement of the protection and human rights situation in the host countries.
Our intention is to start the first pilot RPP in the Western New Independent States, that is to say Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, which will seek to build on and complement the work already begun. The main focus of action should be, in my opinion, on strengthening already existing protection capacity. This could include the reinforcement of subsidiary protection, integration and registration, as well as core protection activities relating to case consideration and reception.
I consider it equally important to complete our efforts by starting another pilot RPP in a country close to a region of origin. As I have indicated in the Communication, I am firmly committed to initiate as soon as possible a dialogue with the relevant authorities in a region of origin, in particular Tanzania, where many refugees from neighbouring countries find shelter, in order to explore the possibilities and contents of a second pilot RPP.
A programme of 5 or 6 actions could be envisaged for each of these two pilot programmes, which would include registration and other projects which are focused on the delivery of practical benefits (training, infrastructure building, the provision of equipment etc). The identification of the specific actions needed for each of the regions identified will be undertaken on the basis of an analysis of on-going activities, and in close cooperation with the national authorities of the third countries concerned and UNHCR. The Commission has already initiated contacts with relevant partners to this effect. Proposals for activities in these areas will then have to be brought forward in the framework of existing financial community Programmes, such as AENEAS and TACIS.
I would like to underline that this initiative has nothing to do with keeping refugees in transit camps, and RPPs will not deal with the processing of asylum applications outside the EU. What we are talking about here, is protection delivered through existing financial instruments and in the context of existing relationships between the Commission and third countries. It should also be stressed that RPPs aim to increase protection in the regions of origin and that such an approach will be complementary to, and in no way substituting, the Common European Asylum System. Asylum seekers arriving spontaneously in Europe will see their asylum claims examined in the country where they have arrived, in line with the Dublin Regulation.
However, the EU cannot ignore the needs of those who are in the regions of origin, and RPPs, which are totally in line with the Agenda for Protection and Convention Plus initiatives run by UNHCR, aim to address these needs. The UNHCR has already expressed their support to RPPs and have been extensively consulted in order to finalise the Communication.
It is true, however, that RPPs will also contribute to preventing illegal secondary movements, and to the fight against human trafficking, given that refugee camps are often reservoirs for criminal organisation. But it should be stressed, once again, that the main focus of RPPs is on protection.
As far as resettlement is concerned, I believe this will be an important factor in every RPP in terms of delivering a Durable Solution outcome to refugees, and demonstrating the partnership element of RPPs to the third countries involved.
However, at this stage it is difficult to envisage an ambitious initiative in this area. Resettlement is new to most Member States. We have to work to demonstrate its benefits and address the challenges. Therefore, I think that in developing an EU-wide resettlement policy we should take a step-by-step approach and the most efficient way to encourage Member States to begin or expand their resettlement efforts is by providing financial support. This is why, in the short term, I intend to amend the European Refugee Fund so that resettlement under RPPs can be financed substantially by the Community. Once the first RPPs will be evaluated, we will examine whether there is a need for a more ambitious initiative on a EU-wide resettlement scheme.
It should also be noted that, recently, several Member States have started to consider setting up their own national resettlement schemes. Therefore, I hope that this change in approach will result in these Member States resettling an important number of people from these regions, thus contributing to the success of RPPs.