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For the reform of the asylum system, see you in June 2018! This is, roughly speaking, what the Heads of State and Government said at the dinner held at their last meeting of the year, on 14th December 2017.
With this invitation, Donald Tusk was showing a certain scepticism about the likelihood of an agreement being reached on quotas for the distribution/relocation of asylum seekers between Member States, as provided for by the Commission on the Dublin Regulation revision. Which had not failed to cause something of a stir … The European Council President’s conclusion to 2017’s last meeting of 2017 suggests the debate is indeed far from closed and the reform of European asylum is far from reaching a consensus “My (…) question was about reforming the Dublin Regulation, including the issue of mandatory quotas. Again, I received a positive answer as to the readiness to work in consensus. Mandatory quotas remain a contentious issue, although its temperature has decreased significantly. If only for this reason, it was worth raising this topic. Will a compromise be possible? It appears very hard. But we have to try our very best. We will assess progress in this respect in March, while the leaders want to make decisions in June”.
On the other hand, the themes concerning “the protection of our territory, the protection of our external borders and the fight against illegal migration” have clearly met with consensus, as President Tusk pointed out to the European Parliament on 16th January. In particular, Member States agreed on a financial instrument to combat “illegal migration” in the context of the next multiannual financial framework.
> The Estonian presidency gives way
By taking the lead of the EU Council for the second half of 2017, Estonia set itself the goal of guaranteeing “a safe and secure Europe”, thereby reducing immigration pressure on the external borders of the EU, and of improving border management, while addressing the consequences of what some have called, a little too glibly, “the migration crisis”.
The structure of externalisation
“I can assure you that solving the migration crisis has become migration management: we are no longer trying to put out fires, and instead focus on long-term solutions“ said Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas on 5th December.
These long-term solutions have fed into the summits of EU leaders, between themselves or with third countries: agreements, support, partnerships and other collaborations with countries of transit or origin of migration … with the sole purpose of externalising migration management and limiting access to EU territory.
Judging by the outcome of the outgoing presidency (see table below), this is one of the few areas on which specific decisions have been taken in recent months. It is with this in mind that the action plan for the Central Mediterranean route was designed. In coordination with the European Commission, and from the beginning of its presidency, Estonia has also focused on developing foreign investment plans. For example, on 28th July 2017, the EU Trust Fund for Africa adopted a € 46 million program to strengthen the capacity of the Libyan authorities in managing migration and borders.
According to the figures published by the Presidency, this was a “success”: at the beginning of July 2017, 12,000 people were arriving in Italy each week; by August that number had dropped below 2,000 a week. The total number of arrivals for the first 11 months of 2017 dropped by a third compared to the same period of last year. For the year 2017, this still brings to 119,310 the total number of people arriving in Italy and 3,116 dead or missing in the region.
The failure of the relocation program
Internally, however, it has proved impossible for the Estonian presidency to overcome the divisions surrounding the concept of “sharing responsibilities between Member States”. It was met with the refusal of some, particularly those of the Višegrad group (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic), to implement the relocation program designed by the Commission and adopted by the Council in autumn 2015: by the end of September, only 29.7% of the number of planned relocations had been completed.
Blockades on asylum reform
Here again, Estonia couldn’t have got the Member States to converge on a common position, especially on the reform of the Dublin Regulation. While on this topic, the European Parliament adopted last November, a document formulating criticisms and constructive proposals concerning the proposal for Regulation Dublin IV (the “Wikström report”), the Council remained blocked by internal disagreements , notably on the question of the principle of a “fair” distribution of asylum seekers.
The adoption of the procedure regulation is subject to similar procrastination. In this case, Member States would be rather in agreement on reinforcing the use of the concept of the “safe country” (safe third country or safe country of origin), but they are much less in agreement on the principle of “common lists”, as advocated by the Commission.
Development of safe and legal pathways through resettlement
On 15th November 2017, the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER) endorsed, on behalf of the Council, a mandate for negotiations on a regulation establishing an EU resettlement framework for the admission of persons in need of international protection. On the basis of this mandate, the Presidency has started negotiations with the European Parliament.
For Andres Anvelt, Estonia’s Minister of the Interior: “Resettlement is a strategic instrument to manage migration flows. At the same time, resettlement is an important legal pathway to offer protection to those in real need “. The project aims as much to provide legal and secure access routes to EU territory as it is to reduce irregular arrivals at the EU’s external borders.
Nevertheless, everyone seems to have forgotten that the first “legal way” of access to the European territory, for people seeking international protection, would be the development of access to humanitarian visas!
|Common European Asylum System Reform Package:|
|I Common European Asylum System Reform Package / Dublin Regulation||Over to the Bulgarian Presidency||The cornerstone of the EU Common Asylum System – the Dublin regulation, will be updated to make the system more crisis-resilient as a response to the migration crisis. The compromise was also introduced in Coreper.|
|I Common European Asylum System Reform Package / European Union Agency for Asylum regulation||Provisional partial Political agreement with EP||The functions and core duties of the European Union Agency for Asylum will be updated.|
|I Common European Asylum System Reform Package / Eurodac regulation||Over to the Bulgarian Presidency||The main database for asylum seekers fingerprints will be updated and law enforcement will be granted access.|
|II Common European Asylum System Reform Package / Qualification Directive||Partially agreed at the Council of the European Union||The revised Qualification Directive clarifies the grounds for granting international protection and therefore will make asylum decisions more robust.|
|II Common European Asylum System Reform Package / Asylum Procedures Regulation||Over to the Bulgarian Presidency||The revised Asylum Procedures Directive aims at fairer, quicker, and better quality asylum decisions.|
|II Common European Asylum System Reform Package / EU Resettlement Framework||Partially agreed at the Council of the European Union||A new framework for resettlement will create common rules for resettlement to offer legal pathways for refugees to the EU.|
|II Common European Asylum System Reform Package / Reception Conditions Regulation||Partially agreed at the Council of the European Union||The revised Reception Conditions Directive ensures that there are humane material reception conditions for asylum seekers across the EU.|
|Central Mediterranean route Action Plan||Agreed at the Council of the European Union||An action plan was put in place and rapidly implemented in response to the urgent migration situation on the Central Mediterranean route.|
> Bulgaria takes the lead
On the 1st of January, Bulgaria – whose motto is “United we stand strong” – took over the rotating presidency of the EU Council for the first time. It has six months to implement a program focusing on four priority areas and in which there is a willingness to secure the EU’s external borders and to ‘manage’ migration more effectively.
Border protection and return policy
Regarding migration management, the Bulgarian Presidency has announced that it will apply a “holistic approach”, based on close cooperation and dialogue with third countries of origin and transit.
Its geographical position at the EU’s external border undoubtedly explains its concern for the increased security of Europe’s borders and the paramount importance it intends to give to effective controls (as illustrated by events in its national territory). The new Presidency is willing to conclude the negotiations with the European Parliament on the Regulation establishing the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), while monitoring the process of implementation of the recently created Entry/Exit System.
Neighbouring Turkey, Bulgaria also supports the respect of the EU-Turkey Statement of 18 th March 2016 and an improvement in relations with this State. The full implementation of the EU-Turkey statement will be supported.
Considering that the return policy is essential, the cooperation in the area of readmission will be improved.
And still … the reform of the “asylum package”
In this field, Bulgaria will have a lot to do, given the files transmitted by the Estonian presidency. Believing it essential to make progress on the basis of the principles of “responsibility and true solidarity“, it said that it would like to make progress on the legislative dossiers that are at the trilogue stage with the European Parliament, and to reach agreement in the Council on the remaining dossiers in order that negotiations with the European Parliament may begin.
It will therefore work to unblock the muddled reform of the Dublin Regulation … It remains that, in this field, it will not only be a question of reaching a common position of the Member States, but also of negotiating with the Parliament.
Legal migrationAs part of efforts to improve the management of migration processes through improving the channels for legal migration, the Presidency intends to achieve progress on the Blue Card Directive to attract and retain highly qualified workers. As a reminder, this is the only proposal on the negotiating table that concerns legal migration.
For the record, Bulgaria has still not been integrated into the Schengen Area. Therefore its involvement in the restoration of the “normal” functioning of the said area can only contribute to conferring on it the qualities required to be admitted.
The new Presidency has therefore made this issue one of its priorities and hopes to reach an agreement within the Council on amendments to the Schengen Borders Code. The amendments aim to adapt the Schengen legal framework “to the new challenges in the area of security“.
See you in June, we said !
For further information:
- Preliminary results of the Estonian presidency as of 21 December 2017- https://www.eu2017.ee/results
- The Presidency of the Council of the EU – http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/council-eu/presidency-council-eu/
- Programme of the Republic of Bulgaria for the Presidency of the Council of the Eu (1 January – 30 June 2018) – https://eu2018bg.bg/en/programme
 Remarks by President Donald Tusk following the European Council meetings on 14th and 15th December 2017- http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/12/15/remarks-by-president-donald-tusk-on-the-european-council-meetings-on-14-and-15-december-2017/
 Report by President Donald Tusk to the European Parliament on December European Council meetings- http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2018/01/16/report-by-president-donald-tusk-to-the-european-parliament-on-december-european-council-meetings/
 « End of relocations », AEDH, September 2017
 “Turkey, a safe third-country!…”, AEDH, 23 September 2017- http://www.aedh.eu/en/turkey-a-safe-third-country/
 Bulgaria does not have the reputation of being very “welcoming”. See in particular the latest AIDA report published on this country : http://www.asylumineurope.org/news/06-02-2017/aida-2016-update-bulgaria
« Towards a revision of the Blue Card…not very convincing », AEDH, 29 November 2016- http://www.aedh.eu/en/towards-a-revision-of-the-blue-cardnot-very-convincing/ and report by Claude Moraes on the directive proposal, 28 June 2017- http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/popups/summary.do?id=1495895&l=en&t=D
 On 27th September, the Commission proposed to extend the authorized period of reinstatement from six to twelve months; this period could be renewed and reach three years in total, instead of two …- European Commission, 27 september 2017- http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-3407_en.htm