The EU Council of Ministers of Justice and Internal Affairs welcomed the European Commission’s proposal on the establishment of a Joint EU Resettlement Program (COM(2009) 447 final) and the correlated proposal to amend the Decision No 573/2007/EC establishing the European Refugee Fund for the period 2008-2013 (COM(2009) 456 final) on 21 September 2009.
This initiative originated from the European Union’s commitment to assist third countries in their efforts to improve their capacity for migration management and refugee protection, as stated during the Hague Council in 2004, (The Hague Programme strengthening freedom, security and justice in the European Union) and later on, for example, from the acknowledgment that the large majority of the refugees worldwide find themselves outside of the EU (Policy Plan on Asylum – an integrated approach to protection across the EU). Indeed, currently only ten Member States participate in resettlement activities (Sweden Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom, Czech Republic and Romania) whereas other Member States resettle refugees on an ad hoc basis.
The proposal of the Commission, accompanied by the working document of the Commission on the establishment of a Joint EU Resettlement Programme (SEC(2009) 1128 final), analyses various strategies to reach the objectives of the proposal. It aims at promoting financial support for the resettlement of refugees coming from third countries to the EU by establishing steps for practical cooperation among EU Member States. Participation of the States is expected to be on a voluntary basis.The Programme will work thanks to the support of a Resettlement Expert Group which will identify common annual EU resettlement priorities on the basis of a forecast of the resettlement needs for the following years. Member States would receive additional financial assistance of 4000 Euros per resettled person from the European Refugee Fund.
Furthermore, in order to provide a structural framework to put into practice cooperation between the parties involved, the initiative foresees the establishment of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) (COM(2009) 66 final). This office will support Member States joint activities, such as selection and fact-finding missions, pre-departure orientation programmes, medical screenings, travel or visa arrangements.
The creation of the EASO is part of a greater package aiming at improving the way the EU asylum system works and strengthening asylum seekers’ rights. The four additional measures include:
- the amendment of the Directive on reception conditions to ensure access to the labour market no later than six months after application to asylum status and access to essential medical treatment on the same ground of the minimum standards granted in each Member State;
- The modification of the Dublin Convention which sets deadlines to make the procedure quicker, allowing appeals against transfers and allowing for states to suspend transfers if they are experiencing a particular pressure on their system;
- The improvement of the general functioning of EURODAC, by clarifying the different stages of its operation and laying down rules on data protection;
- The introduction of a proposal to modify the decision that creates the European Refugees Fund (COM(2009) 67 final).
This proposal has been analysed on 29 April 2009 in a report for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Decision No 573/2007/EC establishing the European Refugee Fund for the period 2008 to 2013 and successively approved on first reading by the European Parliament in co-decision without amendments and with 482 votes in favour, 40 against and 19 abstentions.
Since the Council has not reached agreements on all the amendments of the European Parliament, the package will not be adopted together. As a consequence, Member States’ accession to financial contributions will be granted whereas asylum seekers’ rights, such as that to legal assistance, family reunification, education and health care, will not be strengthened.