04/2006: Karel Kovanda

April 2006

Karel Kovanda
EC Special Representative for Readmission Policies;
Deputy Director-General of the External Relations
DG of the European Commission


The foundations, benefits and challenges
of the EU Readmission Policy


Ü Eurasylum Ltd: Since the European Council in Tampere, Readmission Agreements have gained a pivotal role in the EU’s overall strategy for combating illegal immigration. The European Commission has also set out to integrate issues of migration management into the Union’s overall relations with third countries, through the inclusion of readmission clauses in Association and Co-operation Agreements. The conclusions of the 2002 European Council in Seville, in particular, have stressed that any future cooperation, association or equivalent agreement concluded with any third country should include a clause on joint management of migration flows, and on compulsory readmission in the event of illegal immigration. To date, five formal Community Readmission Agreements have been concluded with Hong Kong, Macao, Sri Lanka, Albania and Russia, while negotiations are under way with Pakistan, Morocco, Ukraine, Turkey and Algeria. In December 2005, in line with one of the Hague Programme’s recommendations, you took office as the first EC Special Representative for Readmission Policies, with overall responsibility for the coordination of the Commission’s efforts in this policy area. Could you guide us through the key facets of your mandate, and outline your initial programme priorities and their institutional implementation mechanisms?

Ü Karel Kovanda: The readmission problematique is one that has in recent years been gaining greater visibility among member states of the EU. In its technical aspects, negotiating agreements, such as with the countries you have listed, is something best left to the specialists from the Justice, Freedom and Security Directorate-General (JLS) of the European Commission. This DG, by the way, is where the Deputy Special Representative for Readmission Policies, Mr Jean-Louis De Brouwer, hails from. However, apart from technical aspects, such as which documents will be recognised under what circumstances, there are other aspects that need to be taken into consideration. In particular, they concern the practical management of negotiations: obviously, the negotiating team has to cooperate with geographical desks responsible for the countries in question  and these desks are today located in the External Relations and Enlargement DGs of the European Commission whilst tomorrow, who knows, they may be in the Development DG as well. In addition, one always has to consider whether other Community policies and instruments might not be brought to bear on the readmission negotiations. All told, readmission is an issue which entails various DGs of the European Commission. Coordinating the work across the various DGs, communicating at a high political level with member states and interlocutors in third countries, and whenever necessary getting involved with the negotiations themselves, particularly when issues of a political rather than technical nature are involved, are some of the main aspects of the mandate as I interpret it.

Ü Eurasylum Ltd: While many Member States had already established bilateral readmission agreements with a number of third countries, Community Readmission Agreements aim, as part of a more comprehensive EU policy on immigration, to improve the effectiveness of return procedures through a range of added value measures. These include: the establishment of common standards relating to all phases of return; the mutual recognition of definitions and decisions; the establishment of a Technical Support Facility to improve operational co-operation; the strengthening of networks of immigration liaison officers in third countries; the co-ordination of statistical information; and the training of staff with responsibilities in the returns sector. Could you indicate, briefly, the state of development of each of these measures and outline the ways in which they are likely to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of future readmission operations?

Ü Karel Kovanda: The return policy of the EU entails an internal dimension as well as an external dimension. In terms of who is responsible for what, and how far my own mandate extends, it is imperative to scrupulously distinguish between the two. EC readmission policies and agreements fall under the external dimension. They set out reciprocal obligations binding the Community on the one hand and the partner country on the other hand. But once an agreement is negotiated, the Community responsibility is over. Its day-to-day implementation, the actual decision about sending a person back and the actual operation it involves  all this is entirely within the competence of our Member States.

Thus the measures mentioned in the question are largely part of the internal dimension of our return policy. They are not negotiated by the Community and do not form a part of the readmission agreements. In short, they are not a part of my remit as Special Representative for Readmission. It is worth noting, however, that at this writing, the Council and the European Parliament are discussing a so-called Return Directive; a document that aims to harmonise the administrative procedures that Member States employ to physically remove a non-EU national illegally dwelling on their territory. If and when adopted, this Directive will facilitate the work of national authorities in return procedures and allow for closer cooperation among Member States in this area.

Ü Eurasylum Ltd: Experience shows that readmission agreements are more effective when they are part of a broader co-operation agenda, and when they take due account of the problems encountered by third countries in addressing migration challenges effectively. This explains that, in its Communication on the development of a common policy on illegal migration, smuggling and trafficking of human beings, external borders and the return of illegal residents”, the Commission has emphasised that the issue of  leverage  i.e. the provision of incentives to improve co-operation of third countries in the conclusion and implementation of readmission agreements  should be envisaged on a country by country basis. Such incentives should be defined, in particular, in the context of existing policy, co-operation and programming frameworks with the third countries concerned, and on the basis of the importance of the third country in terms of emigration flows towards the EU and the state of its relations and co-operation with the Community and the Member States. Could you define in more detail the nature and criteria of such a leverage policy, and provide some examples of third countries where incentives have already been provided in the past, highlighting any effects these might have produced in terms of improved co-operation on readmission procedures?

Ü Karel Kovanda: Successful readmission negotiations do indeed depend very much on incentives that the Community has to offer, or carrots, if you wish. In point of fact, carrots have not always been easy to find. One thing is clear: a readmission agreement with a given country helps streamline the entire regime of people-to-people contacts, which may find other expressions in other areas. One such area is visa facilitation. I wish to emphasise that this is not an area I am responsible for and that no quid-pro-quo exists between readmission and visa facilitation; nevertheless, in some instances, negotiations on these two subjects proceed in parallel. This has been the case, for instance, with Russia and Ukraine and I expect more examples will follow in the future. A number of countries, and your readers can well imagine which ones they may include, are interested in visa facilitation; for the Community, however, a readmission agreement would be a precondition for any such agreement.

Also, we are increasingly enveloping readmission agreements into a broader cooperation framework. An agreement then becomes a part of a heftier package which may include specific technical and financial assistance, burden sharing, closer cooperation in law enforcement and other matters. We are working along these lines with Morocco and Pakistan and I would anticipate that this more comprehensive approach to readmission will become more of a rule as time goes by.