During the JHA Council held on 22 September ministers have had an exchange of views related to a Relation of the Commission regarding the implementation of the conclusions of the European Council of 18 and 19 June 2009. This exchange concerned a proposal for a pilot project for Malta on the internal redistribution of beneficiaries of international protection, as well as on the developments related to the activities of Frontex, particularly focusing on the Mediterranean region.
Concerning Malta, the European Council of June already expressed its support to such a project. Furthermore, during the JHA Council of 22 September 2009 Jacques Barrot renewed the call to Member States to host refugees currently based in Malta. Although France tried to open the way to such an initiative, and countries such as Slovakia and Portugal have expressed their willingness to accept some refugees, currently these offers will allow hosting only 100 refugees out of a total number estimated around 2000. Thus, the initiative of the Commission cannot be defined as very successful yet.
Indeed, after a first round of consultations to know the availability of member States, the Commission realised that several Member States refused tout court to accept any refugee. for example the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria are concerned that this initiative will attract too many illegal immigrants to Europe; in addition some Member States, such as Sweden and Germany, have put their availability on hold, because they want to evaluate the juridical, financial and political consequences that such a decision may entail.
The voluntary nature of this proposal is the reason why up to now only six Member States have agreed to cooperate. Indeed, Maltese MEP Simon Busutill (PPE), during the meeting of the Parliamentary committee on civil liberties (LIBE) hold on 29 September declared that the main problem lies on the non-compulsory nature of the proposal.
Regarding the role and evolution of the activities carried out by Frontex, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders, based in Warsaw, the French Minister for Immigration during his visit in Athens on 18 September, Eric Besson, suggested an action plan to equip Frontex with new means to fight irregular immigration. Furthermore, Jacques Barrot, commissioner in charge of Immigration and the Justice Minister of the Swedish presidency Tobias Billström, during the plenary session of the EP which took place 15 September 2009 underlined the need to reinforce Frontex.
The Council of 22 September foresaw different measures in this respect, especially in the Mediterranean area. The possibility of agreements with third countries of transit and origin based on common needs and operational support have been investigated,in particular in relation to: reinforced controls at the external sea borders, systematic participation of Frontex of readmission activities and the creation of regional specialised Frontex offices.
The strengthening of Frontex is a delicate issue, as the recent accusation made by Human Rights Watch (HRW) pointed out. Indeed, in its report the renowned NGO accused Frontex to have participated to controversial operations when migrants were recently sent back to Libya. As a response, the agency declared that its helicopters have exclusively a patrolling role. However, according to HRW, a German helicopter working under Frontex supervision, helped Italian coast guards intercepting a boat with 75 migrants, on 18 June 2009. These migrants were then sent back to Libya.
The role of Frontex has also been discussed during the meeting of Ministers of Home Affairs on 1 October 2009 where they underlined the need for further strengthening the agency’s cooperation with Europol and Eurojust. In this context, they also requested the three bodies to provide a joint relation on how to reinforce such cooperation.
Finally, the strong interest to strengthen the agency’s role was further confirmed by a letter sent by Italy and France during the European Council of 29 and 30 October.