Alan Shatter TD
Minister for Justice and Equality of the Republic of Ireland
“Key priorities of the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European
Union (January-June 2013) in the fields of immigration and asylum policy”
Ü Eurasylum: In January 2013, the Republic of Ireland will assume the Presidency of the Council of the EU. Can you guide us through your key priorities in the fields of immigration and asylum?
Ü Alan Shatter TD: In the field of asylum Ireland will do what is necessary to conclude any outstanding matters in relation to the legislative package for the completion of the Common European Asylum System. Significant and steady progress has been made by the Cyprus Presidency and previous Presidencies to conclude or to reach political agreements with the European Parliament on the proposals. In the event that there remain some substantive elements to be concluded in 2013, the Irish Presidency will seek to build on the work already done in order to finalise all elements of the asylum package at the earliest possible time.
Ü Eurasylum: The Common European Asylum System (CEAS) will be officially completed this month, under the current EU Presidency. Can you outline some of your planned activities to promote further the main achievements in this field, particularly as regards the establishment of uniform reception conditions for asylum seekers, harmonised rules for fair and accelerated refugee status determination procedures, and the adoption of new solidarity rules to control the distribution of the financial and administrative burden among Member States involved in the management of migration flows?
Ü Alan Shatter TD: The completion of the Common European Asylum System by 2012 at the latest was one of the important objectives set for the Union by the European Council in adopting the Stockholm Programme for the period 2010 to 2014. This objective was enabled by the coming into operation of the Lisbon Treaty allowing the European Parliament and the Council to adopt measures for the CEAS to include a common asylum procedure and a uniform status for those who are granted asylum or subsidiary protection. This objective is to be principally achieved through the application of EU Directives dealing in a comprehensive way with standards for the reception of asylum seekers, a common procedure for granting international protection, and standards on qualification and a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection.
The European Council also stated that the Dublin System remains a cornerstone in building the CEAS, as it clearly allocates responsibility for the examination of an asylum application. This is an important statement as it was made at a time when the operation of the Dublin System was revealing a divergence between, on the one hand, the EU legal standards based on the full and inclusive application of the 1951 Geneva Convention, and on the other hand, the reality of the situation on the ground in Greece. This divergence was laid bare by the judgement in January 2011 by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of MSS -v- Belgium and Greece where the Strasbourg Court found that violations of Article 3 and Article 13 of the Human Rights Convention had occurred.
The MSS case and other developments taking place principally in the Mediterranean region have contributed to the realisation that the EU legislative framework is but one element of a truly effective Common European Asylum System. In its Policy Plan on Asylum of June 2008 the European Commission identified the need to increase practical cooperation in the field of asylum. Following a Commission proposal, the European Parliament and the Council established the European Asylum Support Office for the purpose of providing a dedicated structure to support practical cooperation among the Member States on asylum. Responding to the emerging realities for some of the Member States the EASO was also given the role of providing and coordinating the provision of operational support to Member States subject to particular pressure on their asylum and reception systems.
While work continued on progressing the various legislative proposals for the completion of the CEAS it became clear that other elements needed to be beefed-up. Accordingly, it was considered necessary to develop a common framework for genuine and practical solidarity towards Members States facing particular pressures on their asylum systems, including through mixed migratory flows. This common framework, which was adopted in the form of Council Conclusions by the Justice and Home Affairs Council in March 2012, represents both an important statement of principles and an inventory of practical measures to be implemented. It affirms the need to lay strong foundations for mutual trust, built upon the individual responsibility of Member States to adhere to their EU and international obligations and that solidarity and responsibility go hand in hand.
An important element of the common framework is solidarity through a mechanism for early warning, preparedness and crisis management within the Dublin System. At this stage, even prior to the adoption of the recast Dublin Regulation by the European Parliament and the Council, there is agreement on the text of Article 31 of the Regulation setting out in detail a mechanism to deal with threats to the Dublin System due to either particular pressure on, or because of problems in the functioning of, the asylum system of a Member State. The Article provides that the EASO shall play a key role in the mechanism, in particular, through information gathering, risk assessment, technical assistance and operational support.
Following the completion of the legislative framework for the CEAS there needs to be a period of some years to allow the new legislation to be put into effect in the Member States and for experience in its operation to be acquired. It is important that the legislative framework should provide not only for high protection standards but also for fair and effective procedures capable of preventing abuse. At the end of this initial period a comprehensive evaluation should take place which could inform any future proposals for legislation at EU level.
In reality, the current revision of EU asylum legislation has represented a significant and sustained effort on the part of all participants at both Member State and EU level. There is now an opportunity to further develop, to its full potential, the practical cooperation aspect of the CEAS. The EASO, which is steadily building its operational capacity, has the role of strengthening practical cooperation among the Member States on asylum. The permanent support available from EASO can make a significant contribution towards the consistent implementation of the CEAS. EASO has already begun to make a positive contribution in relation to training, quality processes and country of origin information. Over time EASO has the potential to serve as a reference point by virtue of the quality of the assistance and information it provides.
A key national priority for Ireland is to ensure that Member States have robust national asylum systems and external supports available to them to implement effectively the enhanced EU legal framework on asylum. As we approach the completion of the negotiations on the CEAS legislative measures we must substantially turn our attention to the practical implementation of the new legal framework. We have made important steps to give ourselves the necessary tools to do the job and EASO is now fully operational and directed towards strengthening practical cooperation and support for Member States’ asylum systems. During Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union we will seek to ensure that this focus is maintained and that the role of EASO is promoted.
Ü Eurasylum: The EU Action on Migratory Pressures, approved earlier this year, includes six ‘strategic priority areas’ where efforts need to be stepped up and monitored in order to prevent and control future illegal immigration as well as abuse of legal migration routes. Can you discuss some of the actions that will be supported by your Presidency under each or some of these strategic priority areas?
Ü Alan Shatter TD: A lot of good work has been done by the Danish Presidency and also by their trio partners in this area. The EU Action on Migratory Pressures is important first of all in pulling together all of the elements that contribute to addressing in a concrete the problem of illegal migration in the EU, including the abuse of legal migration channels and of free movement. Secondly it provides a valuable mechanism for on-going focus by the Member States, the Commission and the Agencies in this area. Ireland will seek to maintain the momentum that has been built up by the previous Presidencies, via thematic debate and by ensuring that the “Roadmap” continues to be the living document that was intended. We will also seek to conclude those legislative proposals that contribute to the aims of the Roadmap. This applies in particular to those relating to Schengen Governance, Eurosur and the Visa Regulation. In addition Ireland would hope to commence work on the examination of the Smart Borders Package once the Commission Proposals are published. We will also work with the Commission to further the EU objectives in the area of readmission.