Minister of the Interior of
the Republic of Austria
Key priorities for Austria’s Presidency of the
European Union in the field of immigration and asylum
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: The Republic of Austria will hold the Presidency of the European Union as from next month, until the end of June 2006. During the recent Presidencies, in 2004 and 2005, considerable progress was made, in particular through the adoption of the Hague Programme, the five-year Action Plan for Freedom, Justice and Security, and its corresponding financing programmes, to formalise a concrete agenda and set of targets in the field of immigration and asylum for the years to come. On the other hand, despite a relatively generative legislative programme conducted as from 2003, resulting in the adoption of key directives in the field of family reunification, minimum reception standards for asylum seekers, issues of qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees, and regulations concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents, evidence suggests that the process of transposition of EU directives into national legislation to date has been slow, and that effective compliance and enforcement in the member states remain sub-optimal. Could you guide us, briefly, through the key priorities of Austria’s EU Presidency in the field of immigration and asylum?
Ü Liese Prokop: In October 1999 the European Council of Tampere defined a clear political framework for the immigration and asylum policy of the European Union. Through the Hague Programme we are now at the beginning of the second stage of development, at the end of which there will be a common European asylum system.
The Presidencies of the last few years made great efforts to implement the first level of reforms according to the directions set by the Amsterdam Treaty, until 1st May 2004. They were successful in reaching agreements in the sensitive field of migration and asylum policy, even as regards legal instruments where the interests and positions of the member states were very different.
All the member states expend great efforts to transpose these legal instruments into their national legislation within the set deadlines, thanks also to the contact committees which have been established by the European Commission.
In my opinion, the pace of implementation of the new directives across the EU does not depend on the ambition of the member states but, rather, on the different baseline positions, which require different levels of adaptations. Austria has already implemented the directives through the adoption of the new Aliens and Asylum acts, which will enter into force on 1st January 2006.
With regard to the priorities of Austria’s EU presidency during the first half of 2006, I would like to emphasise, above all, that they will be closely linked to the scope and objectives of the Hague Programme and the Action Plan.
On this basis, we intend to consolidate the cooperation between the member states and third countries in the field of asylum and migration. The activities related to the adoption of a common asylum procedure and a uniformed status, for those people to whom asylum or subsidiary protection will be granted, must be continued. This is the only way to remove differences between the member states and to reduce secondary migration movements.
In this connection, strengthening the structures of practical cooperation is very important to us. Therefore, Austria’s presidency will work towards the development of common Country of Origin information.
At the same time we should advance the cooperation with the EU’s neighbouring states. We can only strengthen international protection of refugees effectively, and sustainably, through these means. Protection should be granted, to those who need it, as close and as near to their home countries as possible.
During the Austrian presidency we will also continue the work on the framework programme Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows for the period 2007 2013. In this context, I also want to mention the proposal for amending the European Refugee Fund, in which strong support for member states under particular migration pressures should be included.
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: In addition to the process of consolidation referred to above, one of the EU’s on-going policy challenges in the field of justice and home affairs relates to the possible establishment of an EU legal framework on labour migration. The Commission will release this month its Communication on economic migration, which will draw, in particular, from the public hearings that took place following publication of the Commission’s Green Paper in January 2005. Issues of legal migration, clearly, intertwine with a range of other key policy components, such as economic and demographic imbalances in the member states, issues of integration into EU society, closer dialogue and development cooperation with the countries of origin, the fight against illegal migration, and broader migration management considerations. What do you expect to be Austria’s main position and impetus in relation to the EU’s emerging plans on legal migration?
Ü Liese Prokop: The question itself shows the complexity and interlinkages of the combination of several factors in the immigration sphere. At the same time I recognise that, to date, awareness of such correlations has been relatively limited. Therefore I explicitly welcome the holistic approach which is increasingly reflected in the European Commission’s proposals.
The Green Paper process, and the legal migration Action Plan which was derived from it, make this approach very clear. The Common Agenda on Integration, the foreign affairs dimension of migration and security, as well as international cooperation related to issues of development, are further examples of this complexity. The holistic approach is important, even if it will not simplify the work of the EU, especially in the context of a European Union Presidency.
I do not expect any new initiatives to result from the Action Plan on labour migration; rather, I would anticipate that our work will aim to fill the gaps. It is true that we already have a common European Union acquis, which was built around particular EU Directives, such as that on family reunification. But taking only this Directive as an example, what its provisions foresee is that member states administer, in principle, situations that had already begun in earlier periods, with the immigration of those who subsequently expressed the wish for their families to join them. In the important field of economic migration, and hence on the admission of new manpower, every member state still acts independently, even if many of those who are admitted in any given member state can circulate freely within the EU after five years (status of long term resident). A Europe-wide management approach to these issues, however, is still lacking. The same applies to the adoption of large regularisation programmes in several member states, which are guided by economic considerations. I am concerned about the growing pull effects which such programmes can generate.
Therefore we need a European policy in the field of economic migration. In this context a balance between harmonisation and flexibility must be reached. The principle of one size fits all does not seem appropriate to me. The baseline situations, and the admission and integration capacities of the member states, still vary greatly across the EU, as do the job markets and the requirements of different economic sectors.
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: Another major area which has ascended the EU’s policy agenda over the last couple of years has related to the improved targeting and coordination of protection activities, and to the provision of durable solutions to refugee situations at a regional, non-EU level. An initial illustration of this policy aim has included the development of two pilot Regional Protection Programmes, in the Western New Independent States and possibly in Tanzania, to strengthen local protection capacity, including through the provision of training, infrastructure and equipment. In what ways does your Presidency intend to expand on these policy objectives, including on the subjacent objective of developing an EU-wide resettlement policy, and how do you see such efforts contributing to a gradual and partial reduction in illegal secondary movements, and to the fight against human trafficking? Similarly, how will increased efforts and resources on the development of a regional protection capacity outside the EU relate to the concurrent objective of enhancing the protection capacity and standards in the EU member states themselves, through completion of the Common European Asylum System?
Ü Liese Prokop: As already mentioned, the external dimension of the common European asylum policy is a significant element in our approach to global migration phenomena. Close cooperation among the EU member states, the countries of origin and the countries of first asylum is important to reach improvements in international refugee protection. The European Union has clearly declared it international solidarity.
The commitment of the EU member states on asylum matters worldwide does not generate any friction, nor is it at all in contradiction with the harmonisation process within the European Union; rather, it is a necessary element in the process of completion of internal developments in the field of asylum. The EU supports genuine refugees. The improvements in the living conditions in the regions of origin and transit are valuable contributions to a reduction or avoidance of worldwide flows of refugees. If the living conditions of human beings improve, they will not feel compelled to leave their homes at the risk of their lives. The all too frequent humanitarian tragedies which are caused by attempts to migrate to Europe can thus be avoided, as can international human trafficking activities.
In this context, I would like to refer, once again, to the EC Communication on regional protection programmes (September 2005), which has set out to support the people in need of protection in the regions of origin, and to increase protection activities in situ.
In view of their local refugee situations, I agree that the Western Newly Independent States (Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova) and the region of the Great Lakes in Africa (Tanzania) are appropriate regions to implement the pilot regional protection programmes. They are also appropriate from a humanitarian and political point of view.
In view of the intensity of the flows of refugees from several regions of transit and origin to Austria, the eastern borders of the European Union are particularly important to us. During our Presidency we will thus support, as best as we can, the European Commission and the member states in the implementation of these pilot projects. If the pilot phase is successful, then additional protection programmes in other regions of the world will be likely to be developed.
Resettlement is part of the three durable solutions for the strengthening of regional protection. While I promote such an inclusion, I consider that, for humanitarian reasons, voluntary return and local integration measures should be favoured. In line with the proposal of the European Commission, I also consider that the step-by-step approach, which foresees that the establishment of an EU resettlement programme will not be examined before the evaluation of the pilot phase in 2007, is appropriate. On the basis of the results of this evaluation we should be able to assess whether and in which form an EU-wide resettlement programme would be practicable and could be established.