Tony McNulty MP
Minister of State for Immigration, Citizenship
and Nationality of the United Kingdom
“Key outcomes of the UK Presidency of the EU
in the field of immigration and asylum”
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: The UK Presidency of the European Union, from July to December 2005, had established six key priorities in the area of asylum and immigration: (i) to take forward on-going efforts to strengthen the EU’s borders; (ii) to develop further co-operation on combating human trafficking activity; (iii) to improve the security of EU travel documents; (iv) to enhance co-operation between the EU Member States asylum authorities; (v) to establish the Visa Information System; and (vi) to cooperate with countries of origin and transit to help improve their systems of migration management and refugee protection. Could you guide us, briefly, through the main relevant decisions adopted under your Presidency in the field of migration and asylum, and could you explain the ways in which these have contributed to the implementation of the five-year Action Plan for Freedom, Justice and Security, and/or have consolidated EU policy and legislative instruments adopted in the first half of the 2000s?
Ü Tony McNulty MP: During the UK’s Presidency we achieved much of what we set out to do in the areas of immigration and asylum. We made progress on each of our three main priorities – stronger EU engagement with the rest of the world in migration issues; strengthening border security, including dealing with organised immigration crime; and practical cooperation to manage migration. Migration is a truly international issue – it cannot be dealt with acting alone.
One of the key pieces of work that emerged during our Presidency was on migration in the context of the EU and Africa. This developed swiftly following discussions on ways to strengthen dialogue and cooperation on migration issues between the EU and Africa at the September JHA Informal Meeting, held in Newcastle-Gateshead. Member States endorsed the Presidency’s approach to these issues, and this was followed up at the October JHA Council with a discussion on Regional Protection Programmes with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres. The tragic events in the Spanish north African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla concentrated minds at the October Council, and meant that migration was also on the agenda at the informal Summit at Hampton Court, when heads of state agreed on the need to work more closely in partnership with sub-Saharan and North Africa. As a result, the Commission issued a Communication on priority actions on migration, which was warmly received at the December JHA Council. The Presidency drafted a paper building on this, setting out concrete actions focusing on Africa and the Mediterranean, to be implemented in 2006.
Working to enhance dialogue and cooperation between the EU and Africa is about looking at a broad and balanced agenda we need to think about the whole range of migration issues, including building capacity to manage legal migration, fostering the links between migration and development, strengthening protection of refugees, combating illegal migration and trafficking in human beings, and integrating migrants into host societies. It makes sense to work collectively with EU partners and with regions of origin and transit on migration issues, to deliver our shared objective of tackling illegal migration and improving migration management. There are many regions with which we need to engage but we agree with the focus on Africa as a first priority area. African countries carry the largest number of refugees, so it’s important we work with them to build capacity and to tackle some of the root causes of migration.
The EU has recently agreed an external relations strategy for Justice and Home Affairs, which incorporates all aspects of our work on migration, and which consolidates the EU’s approach to working in partnership with source and transit countries.
Another key priority for the UK Presidency was to speed up progress on readmission agreements. In October the EU concluded a readmission agreement with Russia and has made significant progress on negotiations with Ukraine, Pakistan and Morocco – there’s a real prospect of concluding one or more of these agreements in the first half of 2006. It has been particularly helpful that the Commission has followed the Hague Programme recommendation to appoint the Special Representative for Readmission Policies, Mr Karel Kovanda. Following the issue of the Commission’s Communication on Regional Protection Programmes in September we made significant progress towards the launch of the pilot programmes. The Commission provided further details in December, and we expect the formal launch of individual projects in Autumn 2006.
Work also continues in the area of Local Border Traffic, and following early engagement with the European Parliament and swift and steady progress in the Council we have laid foundations for a first reading deal. We have also supported the European border agency, FRONTEX, in its initial stages and continue to do so since it became fully operational in October.
Another focus of the UK Presidency was human trafficking – an area in which the UK was successful in getting the EU to agree a forward work programme in the form of a new EU Action Plan. This plan draws on a Communication from the Commission issued in October, preparatory work done by the UK during our Presidency and a Conference in Brussels in October which we hosted in partnership with the Commission and the Nordic Baltic Taskforce Against Trafficking in People. The plan was adopted by EU Justice and Home Affairs ministers at the December Council and is a significant achievement which will lead to more joined up action to prevent and combat this appalling trade.
Under our Presidency the Council agreed conclusions on a range of immigration and asylum issues including security standards in ID cards; the global roll out of the Visa Information System; integration of refugees and migrants and voluntary returns. We also made steady progress on the financial instruments of the solidarity funds, covering external borders, refugees, returns and integration, and started preliminary discussions on the Mutual Information Procedure on sharing information on domestic immigration and asylum measures with other Member States.
All these areas of work fit into or stem from the aims of the Hague Programme, and adhere to the timings of the Action Plan as closely as possible. No new legislation was adopted under our Presidency but much groundwork was done in preparation for further legislation, building on the Tampere agenda. In short, the UK Presidency demonstrates a record of achievement in the migration and border control field.
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: The UK Presidency has recognised the importance of increasing the capacity of national asylum authorities outside the EU. It has indicated that the newly established pilot Regional Protection Programmes should be seen as a first step in improving access to protection and durable solutions for eligible groups as close to their countries of origin as possible. In particular, your Presidency has emphasised the need for a comprehensive and regional approach which can include activities that enhance access to durable solutions, i.e. repatriation, local integration and resettlement where appropriate, within a broader partnership with countries and regions of origin, and in close cooperation with UNHCR. This approach would incorporate a variety of relevant instruments, focused primarily on capacity building, and would include a joint resettlement programme for Member States willing to participate in such a scheme. Although the pilot Regional Protection Programmes will only be evaluated in early 2007, could you describe the main policy and operational significance of these initiatives, and the extent to which the Regional Protection Programmes will be consistent with the need to enhance the protection capacity and standards in the EU member states themselves, through completion of the Common European Asylum System?
Ü Tony McNulty MP: The UK has always had a clear focus around strengthening regional protection for the majority of the world’s refugees who are unable to access asylum systems in the EU and other countries. It is essential to do this in regions of origin, as close to home areas as possible in order to ensure accessibility and effective protection for those fleeing persecution and conflict. We need to protect the vulnerable and seek to undermine those who exploit people genuinely in need of protection. We also need to offer our help and support to third countries in or close to these regions of new and protracted refugee situations to help them build their capacity to care for the refugee populations that they find themselves hosting.
It is for these reasons that we see Regional Protection Programmes (RPPs) as a priority in providing practical solutions to plug the protection capacity gaps of the countries and regions targeted by them. The European Commission’s proposal on RPPs emerged from discussions held within the EU on migration management issues, and provision of international protection, and also reflected the wider international approach to protection issues such as the UNHCR’s Convention Plus initiative.
I also see the RPP concept as an important tool to build upon the existing dialogue between the EU and countries in regions of origin and transit and in stimulating new dialogues in the field of migration. The concept is being tested through the implementation of two pilots for which the geographic areas were proposed by the Commission in consultation with the UNHCR. They reflect regions where a practical small scale project-based approach, tailored to the individual needs of the specific region, would be able to add value and build upon existing initiatives in the location in question. For the pilot in Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus there will be a need to build on and add value to existing capacity building initiatives that are already underway. The other pilot will focus on sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the Great Lakes region where there is a real need to provide help that benefits both refugees and the local communities who host them.
In both these pilot regions, and those where future RPPs are to be implemented, it is important that any work undertaken is done so in partnership with the third countries involved and with the help and expertise of international and national non-governmental organizations. The concept will also be important as part of a key EU approach to work in partnership with source and transit regions of migration to improve migratory flows, which is in the interests of all countries concerned as well as migrants themselves.
This is being carried out in parallel to work within the EU to enhance practical co-operation between Member States and to provide for minimum standards on asylum. Only by addressing migration in a comprehensive and coherent manner, in co-operation with all actors and with a common vision, can we tackle the negative consequences we witness and maximise the positive outcomes of migration.
Ü Eurasylum Ltd: Your Presidency has reiterated the fact that issues such as organised crime, terrorism and migration management lie at the heart of maintaining international stability and security both outside and inside the European Union. It has stressed the fact that promoting the rule of law externally is essential to reinforce the area of freedom, security and justice within the European Union. In October this year, the Commission presented its Communication on a Strategy on the external dimension of the area of freedom, security and justice. The Communication’s underlying assumption is that the EU has developed a broad range of instruments ranging from Association or Co-operation Agreements with third countries to operational cooperation through bodies such as Europol, Eurojust, the European Police College and the European Borders Agency which enable it to foster co-operation with third countries worldwide on relevant justice and home affairs. Furthermore, the EU’s experience in issues such as border management, migration management and the fight against organised crime should be seen as useful points of reference for third countries that face similar challenges. On the basis of this Communication, your Presidency has prepared, together with the Commission and the Council Secretariat, a Joint Paper which it presented to the Council in December. Could you outline the main tenets of the EU’s new strategy on the external dimension of migration and asylum issues?
Ü Tony McNulty MP: The External Relations Strategy sets out key thematic priorities as well as the underlying principles for our engagement within the European Union. The strategy also outlines the delivery mechanisms and tools at the EU’s disposal and highlights the ways in which the EU should deliver on its priorities.
The strategy emphasises that in order to meet the expectations of its citizens the European Union must respond to the challenge of managing migration flows. Of course, if the EU is to be effective in doing this it needs to work with countries outside the EU and the strategy takes this on board. In an increasingly interconnected world working with non-EU states will become ever more important. I think it is important that the EU should make Justice and Home Affairs a central priority in its external relations and ensure a co-ordinated and coherent approach. The development of the area of freedom, security and justice can only be successful if it is underpinned by a partnership with third countries on these issues which includes strengthening the rule of law, and promoting respect for human rights and international obligations.
The strategy notes both the challenges of increased global migration, and the positive impact for both host and source countries and migrants, when migration is managed effectively. However, what it underlines is the importance of tackling the problem of illegal migration and the trafficking of human beings while protecting the human rights of migrants not least to avoid the often tragic consequences that occur when people are forced to migrate illegally.
As I’ve explained, the EU alone cannot deal with these issues. We should take steps to maximise the benefits of legal migration and, where appropriate, take early action to promote and improve the integration of migrants. This should include measures to promote safer, easier and cheaper transfer of remittances and enhance their developmental impact; to facilitate the role of diasporas as agents of development in their home countries; to explore options for temporary and circular migration and to mitigate the impact of skills losses in vulnerable sectors. Further, the EU must pursue in close co-operation with third countries both short- and long-term action to tackle irregular migration flows and their underlying causes. This should include efforts to strengthen border controls, improve travel document security and combat people smuggling and trafficking. These must be accompanied by readmission agreements that ensure returns of illegal immigrants, with priority being accorded to concluding planned agreements and implementing existing ones. There should also be steps to enhance protection and durable solutions for refugees in regions of origin and transit. EU action is most effective where it is based on a partnership with third countries to tackle common problems and meet shared policy objectives – this is particularly so in the field of migration.