Parliamentary tracker : echoes from LIBE meeting of January 30-3124, 2017

by Luigi LIMONE (*)

Summary :
– Information systems and interoperability
– 2009 Europol Data Breaches
– Europol-Danemark Agreement
– Amnesty Report on Hotspots in Italy
– Residence Permits for Third Country Nationals
– Trade framework Agreement with Turkey
– LIBE delegations to the UN Summit on migration (2016)
– Electorinc votes
– Draft Report on the Reception Directive
– Implementation PNR Directive
– Registration Ships Passengers
– EU-Afghanistan Joint Way Forward (migration)
– Study on criminalisation of humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants
– Implementation Directives on seasonal workers and intracorporate transfert

 
Point 1 – High-Level Expert Group on information systems and interoperability
Presentation of the state of play of the process towards the interoperability of information systems and first results of the High-Level Expert Group’s interim report of December 2016 by Julian King, Commissioner for the Security Union.
Julian King, Commissioner for the Security Union, opened his presentation highlighting the need for an effective information sharing system between Member States. In particular, he reported several repeating cases of people being registered under different identities within the  various EU information systems. Therefore, he underlined the importance of looking at how to improve the quality of the data which are put into the information systems, the access to that data by the national authorities as well as the way in which that data in processed.
He also mentioned the need to increasingly support Member States for the implementation of the EU Passenger Name Record (PNR) directive and claimed that some progress was achieved in the way information is shared between national authorities, mentioning in particular Europol contribution to smart data information.
From his presentation, three priority actions have emerged: 

  1. a) to strengthen the Schengen information system with the aim of countering terrorist offences;
  2. b) to close the gaps with reference to information which is covered by the existing systems:
  3. c) to look at how EU information systems can work together, i.e. interoperability of the systems.

In order to accomplish these goals, the EU would need to:

  1. a) reinforce data quality control mechanisms and identify common data quality indicators;

2)make better use of existing systems;
3) realize common biometric matching services or shared biometric repositories.
MEPs’ interventions:
For Gérard Deprez (ALDE – Belgium) the current EU information systems has always been   based on pre-Lisbon instruments and now the time has come to move towards a post-Lisbon approach. Deprez also reported a lack of high quality data as well as continuous inconsistencies and weaknesses in the way the EU is working, especially when it comes to interoperability. For him, it is necessary to process data in a more intelligent way.
According to Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany), some member states are not giving information to the systems. For her, this is a big problem because interoperability does not mean that new systems needs to be created but that connections between existing systems must be improved.
Michal Boni (EPP – Poland) highlighted 5 key points:
1) the necessity to distinguish between what should be compulsory and what voluntary when talking about data and information sharing;
2) the need to touch both the legal and technical dimensions of interoperability;
3) the creation of a system which allows for a real time data processing in order to have faster reactions;
4) the need for common repository collections;
5) the need to take into consideration security issues when talking about privacy protection.
Roberta Metsola (EPP – Malta) underlined that fact that citizens should feel confident in the existing information systems and in the way the EU would respect data protection legislation. She also highlighted the importance of training staff at national level and raised some points on how the EU should best control data access.
Agustín Díaz De Mera García Consuegra (EPP – Spain) said that protection of human rights and better access to data should be ensured, together with a more efficient management of the 14 existing information systems. For him, more democratic and effective oversight of what these security services do is required as well.

Point 2 – European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation and Training (Europol) Presentation by Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol, on the Europol data breach on terrorism investigation files.
With reference to the data breach which has recently threatened Europol databases, Rob Wainwright explained that the exploitation of this historical data probably occurred in April 2009. Such data compromise was notified to Europol at the end of September 2016.
It concerned 21 information exchanges on nearly 54 investigations pertaining to terrorism files conducted between 2003 and 2006. The case appeared in the media on 30 November 2016 as part of a TV program in the Netherlands and investigations are now pending, even though Europol cannot reveal too much information because it is bound by confidentiality rules.
During the presentation, Wainwright clarified that Europol immediately managed the case and that Member States were satisfied with the way the case was managed: cooperation between Europol and Member States was not affected. He also said that the case at hand was about the individual misconduct of a police officer and therefore it couldn’t be said that it would never happen again. However, Wainwright said that it was the first case of that kind since Europol was established in 1999 and that the firmness of Europol had been improved since this case happened 7 years before.
MEPs’ interventions:
Roberta Metsola (EPP – Malta) expressed her support to Europol but raised some issues concerning the timing of the notification of the data breach to the European Parliament. She also talked about the necessity to improve the capabilities of Europol in order to make this never happen again.
For Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar (S&D – Spain), the case has shown that the information systems of certain Member States are more vulnerable than others and therefore more action is needed to protect them.
According to Agustín Díaz De Mera García Consuegra (EPP – Spain), the trust of Member States on Europol should not be touched because the event is just an exception, it happened in 2009 and it refers to events which occurred between 2003 and 2009.
According to Sophia In ‘t Veld (ALDE – Netherlands), this is a serious matter and it should be considered a breach event if no damage occurred. For her the key word is trust and the EU needs to find a way to address such problems in case they may occur again in the future.
Carlos Coelho (EPP – Portugal) stated that the European Parliament should have been notified in advance even though Europol was bound by rules on confidentiality. For him, there is a problem of information exchange between Europol and the European Parliament and therefore new channels should be implemented in order to improve the information exchange between the two institutions.

Point 3 – List of third states and organisations with which Europol shall conclude agreements
This was a follow-up of the session of 23-24 January 2017 dealing with a council implementation decision amending Decision 2099/965/JHA as regards the list of third States and organisations with which Europol shall conclude agreements.
The draft report was considered concerning the possibility to conclude an agreement between Europol and Denmark after the departure of the latter from Europol as a result of the referendum held on 3 December 2015.
Agustín Díaz De Mera García Consuegra (EPP – Spain), rapporteur of the report, explained that Denmark would no longer be part of Europol starting from 1 May 2017.
He said that Denmark and the EU institutions were discussing the conclusion of an agreement in order for Denmark to continue to be associated to Europol and therefore minimise the effects of Denmark departure from Europol as well as avoiding operational gaps. The agreement should be concluded by 1 May 2017. According to the rapporteur, a cooperation agreement with Denmark should have a transitional nature and it cannot give Denmark direct access to  Europol database nor equal full membership of Europol.
MEPs’ interventions. 
Caterina Chinnici (S&D – Italy) stated that even though the decision of Danish citizens should be respected, careful work should be done to make sure that Denmark and the EU could cooperate in crucial fields such as terrorism. She also said that the short time frame should be considered and therefore the agreement should be concluded as soon as possible. She also raised some issues about the future of the relationships. For her, in fact, the cooperation agreement between Europol and Denmark should represent a legal base for the  continuation of the relationship between Denmark and the other Member States within the framework of Europol.
Morten Helveg Petersen (ALDE – Denmark) confirmed the transitional character of this measure while expressing his regret for the outcome of the referendum.
Judith Sargentini (Greens/EFA – Netherlands) asked for some clarifications about some points contained in the report, in particular with reference to a ‘limited cooperation [with Denmark]’ and a ‘continued partial access [for the country] to Europol database’.

Point 4 – Amnesty International report on “Hotspot Italy: How EU’s flagship approach leads to violations of refugee and migrant rights”
Presentation by Matteo De Bellis, Amnesty International’s researcher of the report “Hotspot Italy: How EU’s flagship approach leads to violations of refugee and migrant rights” written in November 2016.
At the beginning of 2016 a research project was launched by Amnesty International in order to better examine the impact of the hotspot approach.
As stated in the report, the hotspot approach was presented back in mid-2015, as a flagship EU response to the high number of arrivals in Europe’s southern countries with the aim of decreasing the number of irregular secondary movements from Italy to other Member States by taking fingerprints at the hotspot stations. To conduct this research, some hotspot stations in Italy, especially the those in Lampedusa and Taranto, were visited. During these visits, several violations of human rights during fingerprinting, screening and expulsion activities were reported.
The report deals with the violations of human rights in these three areas:

  1. a) Fingerprinting. Coercive measures were reported to taken in order to collect fingerprints, such as arbitrary detentions for days, weeks and even months. A lack of legal support for migrants who were detained was reported as well together with several cases of excessive use of force. A total of 24 witnesses were collected in different cities and in a very short period of time. The majority of these testimonies revealed that migrants were badly treated by the Italian police. Some of the migrants said they were threatened, beaten on the genitals or hit by electric shocks. This information was confirmed by other NGOs and journalists.
  2. b) Screening. In some cases, screening activities were carried out immediately after the disembarkation process without giving migrants the time to recover even if very often are in bad conditions after long trips and separations from their families,. Moreover, some migrants revealed that they did not received before the screening any information concerning their legal status.
  3. c) Expulsion. With regards to expulsions two main points are dealt with in the report:

1) migrants who had been judged very quickly and inaccurately during the screening were sent back home, sometimes to unsafe countries;
2) Italy was trying to conclude bilateral agreements with some countries, such as Sudan, in order to send back migrants who were considered irregular after the screening. This happened without a deep assessment of the situation of the country where irregular migrants were sent back. This was particularly the case for some migrants from Darfur, (a region threatened by the Sudanese government), who were sent back to Sudan.
Summing up, several cases of violation of human rights were reported in Italian hotspots.
De Bellis claimed that, paradoxically, the hotspot approach has increased and not reduced the burden on frontline countries. He also said that Amnesty International had tried to contact the Italian government to ask for some clarifications on the outcome of the report but the Italian government refused to make any statement.
MEPs’ interventions:
Barbara Spinelli (GUE/NGL – Italy) said she wrote to the Italian government in order to ask for some explications about the findings of the report and she confirmed that the Italian government hadn’t yet replied. She also mentioned that Italian authorities have tried to discredit Amnesty International but the results of the report were confirmed by other NGOs. She also added that, alongside the agreement with Sudan, the Italian government is currently concluding an agreement with Libya.
Elly Schlein (S&D – Italy) informed the Committee of her visits to the Italian hotspots in Taranto and Trapani. From her point of view, the hotspot approach has made the situation even more difficult than before, notably with regards to relocation of migrants.
She explained, in fact, that relocation activities were becoming a sort of discriminatory exercise because based on nationality criteria (with people automatically being sent back home if they did not belong to the nationalities eligible for relocation). She also reported that the hotspots she has visited were overcrowded and inadequate notably for children. Moreover Frontex and EASO were not helping or in some cases they were not even present in the structures.
According to her, the fact that migrants refuse to be fingerprinted is due to the hypocritical aspect of the Dublin system which would oblige them to stay in a country where there are no adequate structures for their reception.
For Caterina Chinnici (S&D – Italy) the big effort of Italy who is currently facing mass influx of people should be praised. She also said that as far as the reception of unaccompanied minors is concerned, Italy was showing the best possible support to minors coming into the hotspot centres. She recognized however that the hotspot approach had engendered more difficulties instead of improving the situation of migrants.
Ana Gomes (S&D – Portugal) said it was quite depressing to realize that violations of human rights were occurring in hotspots. For her, the Dublin system is the main reason people refuse to be fingerprinted and the hotspot approach has had negative impact also in Greece.
She also talked about the readmission agreements which the EU has concluded or is trying to conclude with countries where a lack of necessary and adequate structures was reported,  such as Turkey and Sudan in particular but also Libya, given the fact that the Maltese presidency has included the agreement with Libya among its priorities. According to her, an agreement with Libya should be avoided and Italy should know it very well because it has the necessary intelligence connections within the Libyan country.
Dietmar Köster (ALDE – Germany) said that Italian authorities should answer to the questions raised by the report. He raised some concerns on whether the Italian authorities behavior could be considered a deliberate deterrent vis a vis of migrants.
For Helga Stevens (ECR – Belgium) the situation of Italy and Greece is probably comparable and it is crucial for Italian authorities to do a good job because the country is receiving too many migrants whose classification as refugees or irregular migrants is becoming increasingly difficult and therefore screening is fundamental.
As far as fingerprinting activities are concerned, she called upon Amnesty International to encourage migrants to give fingerprints since this is the only way Member States could check their status when they cross another European country. She also stated that NGOs should provide correct information to migrants about the importance of fingerprints.
Matteo De Bellis replied that national authorities should always provide migrants with the information on their rights as well as on their duties. For him, it is necessary to provide incentives to people so that they can participate actively and positively in the process of fingerprinting. It should also be taken into account that fingerprinting has to be done in accordance with family reunification law and in accordance with the right of relocation, thus allowing a safe and secure passage to another Member State.
De Bellis also confirmed the point raised by Elly Schlein concerning discrimination in relocation measures. He mentioned as an example the case of Eritrean migrants who seldom refuse to be fingerprinted because they are included among the nationalities eligible for relocation, whereas other nationalities such as Sudanese people usually refuse to be fingerprinted because they are not considered eligible to relocation.
On the role of EASO, he confirmed that its contribution to the management of the activities in the hotspots was not very clear. In conclusion, De Bellis said that the lack of solidarity among Member States was leading to externalisation of the analysis of the refugee status and even cases of non-refoulement by putting more and more responsibilities on the southern Mediterranean countries. He also added that despite the great number of arrivals on the Italian coasts, Italy could not be justified in its activities which most of the time were not respecting the rule of law.

Point 5 –  Uniform format for residence permits for third country nationals
The rapporteur Jussi Halla-Aho (ECR – Finland) presented a draft report on the proposal for a regulation aiming to reduce different nationals interpretations on the rules on residence permit cards.
This proposal also seeks to establish more modern security features in order to make residence permits more secure and prevent forgery. According to the rapporteur, the proposal is very short and technical in nature and therefore it contains very little reference to the political dimension. The rapporteur also said that the Council Legal Service was not satisfied with the proposal as it did not contain a separation between Schengen and non-Schengen  nationals. He stated however that he did not agree with the opinion of the Council Legal Service and that he would continue to support the proposal in its integrity.
MEPs’ interventions:
Cécile Kyenge (S&D – Italy) shadow rapporteur for her Group on the proposal considered that the  European Parliament should proceed to a rapid adoption of the draft report since the priorities of the EU are the harmonization of the documents and the guarantee of a high degree of security within the EU territories.
Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL – France) underlined the technical aspect of the document and said she did not agree with the Council’s proposal to differentiate between Schengen and non-Schengen nationals.
 

Point 6 – Towards a new trade framework between the EU and Turkey and the modernisation of the Customs Union
This debate was focused on the amendments to the own-initiative report on a new trade framework between Turkey and the EU, with a special focus on custom union. On behalf of the rapporteur Csaba Sogor (PPE – Romania), Roberta Metsola (PPE – Malta) talked about the contents of the report with reference to the modernisation of the Custom Unions and visa liberalisation in particular.
A large number of amendments were presented to the report due to the recent deterioration of the situation concerning human rights in Turkey which led in November 2016 to a freezing of the negotiation of the relations between Turkey and the EU.
MEPs’ interventions:
Péter Niederrmüller (S&D – Hungary) spoke on behalf of Kati Piri (S&D – Netherlands). He said that Turkey should be considered an important partner for the EU both in the economic and in the political aspects and therefore the modernisation of the customs unions should be considered a crucial point. He raised some concerns about the timing of the decision since Turkey has been living a state of emergency since November 2016 and therefore negotiations with Turkey are currently frozen. He also recognized that in the case of visa liberalization Turkey should still fulfil some benchmarks and therefore visa liberalization should be kept separate from Customs union modernization.
Jussi Halla-Aho (ECR – Finland) spoke on behalf of Daniel Dalton (ECR – United Kingdom). He said that the proposal contained some technical points that should be left to the INTA committee. He also stated that the customs union should be an important element in the trade agreement with Turkey together with agriculture, public procurement and energy. Regarding visa liberalisation, he said that it should be considered as a separate issue and that Turkey should fulfil some benchmarks in order to obtain the liberalisation of visa with the EU.
According to Bodil Valero (Greens/EFA – Sweden), the biggest issue remains the timing of the report because negotiations on EU-Turkey relations are now frozen. For her, it is not the right time to talk about a trade agreement with Turkey and visa liberalisation and the customs union should in any case be considered separately.

Point 7 – LIBE ad-hoc delegation to the UN High-level meeting on Refugees and Migrants, New York, 18-20 September 2016
Consideration of a draft delegation report with representatives of the European Union External Action Service (EEAS) and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).
Cecilia Wikstrom (ALDE – Sweden), Róza Maria Gräfin Von Thun Und Hohenstein (EPP – Poland) and Elly Schlein (S&D – Italy) were the three members who participated in the mission.
Cecilia Wikstrom (ALDE – Sweden), head of the mission, said that it was a successful mission which resulted in the signature of the New York declaration by all the 193 countries of the United Nations. The success of the declaration was represented by the two annexes on migration and refugee compacts. However, she reported a lack of participation by the civil society and the business sector.
For Elly Schlein (S&D – Italy) it was a very important moment as the event represented the first important summit on migrants and refugees at the UN level. The participants discussed the adoption of global compacts on refugees and migrants to be reached within two years. She said that the aim was to find a holistic approach to such issues since migration and refugees should be considered not only a European problem, but a global problem. She also said that during the summit the US delegation had been one of the most active with reference to relocation and resettlement ad she raised therefore some concerns on the current situation in the US with Trump’s recent ban on Muslim citizens of six countries.
According to her, the EU has to take more integrated effort to confirm its commitment to the New York declaration since now everything can happen with Trump in the US.
For Róza Maria Gräfin Von Thun Und Hohenstein (EPP – Poland) the mission gave a very good signal because a common approach was reached even though the participants of the LIBE delegation were coming from different parties.
The representative of the European Union External Action Service (EEAS) said that the EU had been very well represented during the mission phases, with a very active role in the phases of negotiation for the adoption of the new declaration. He clarified that the declaration should be of course considered as a non-binding document but in his opinion it was a positive sign that all the 193 countries decided to sign it. For him, the declaration represents a very solid text which can constitute a solid base for the future. Among the topics dealt with during the discussions, he mentioned the adoption of a comprehensive approach, the idea of sharing responsibilities, a very prominent role of the IOM, the protection of human rights and the fight against xenophobia, the compliance with the UN Agenda 2030.
As far as the two global compacts are concerned, he explained that the process for their adoption would go on for the next couple of years, in particular until 2018.
For him, it is a quite intense process which aims to produce two compacts, one on migrations and the other on refugees and the New York declaration could be the starting point.
In this process, the civil society would have play a fundamental role, especially during the first phase of consultation whose objective is to shape the content of the negotiations which will occur between April 2017 and November 2017.
More specifically, as regards migration there will be six consultations: three in Geneva, one in Vienna and two in New York with the purpose of collecting information and opinions from civil society actors and stakeholders.
This consultation phase will be based on a number of thematic criteria such as human rights, irregular migration and pathways, international cooperation and governance of migrations, drivers of migrations (climate change and environmental disasters in particular), smuggling and trafficking.
At the end of this first phase, there will be summaries of the consultation phase and a stock-taking phase intended for the preparation of a conference which will be held in Mexico in January 2018. After that conference, the intergovernmental phase will start with negotiations beginning in February 2018.
There will be one session per month until July 2018 in order to bring to negotiate on the themes analysed during the consultation phase.
The IOM is expected to give a very relevant contribution during the whole process.

A representative of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) presented the refugee compact whose adoption appeared to be a little bit more complex. A leading role would be given to the UNHCR for the adoption of a global refugee compact by 2018.
Three countries have been identified as possible pilots for the implementation of this global approach: Uganda, Tanzania and Somalia.
The UNHCR foresees that consultations with stakeholders will start in July 2017.
The phase of intergovernmental cooperation is expected to start in December 2017.
The global compact on refugees should aim to:

  1. a) ease the burden of countries by providing additional funding to countries which host the most number of refugees;
  2. b) ensure dignified treatments to refugees, especially through humanitarian aid in order to provide refugees with the social services they need to have a dignified life;
  3. c) improve peace-building and prevention activities with a more active role played by political actors.

Point 8 – LIBE mission to eu-LISA: Tallin, Estonia – 3-4 November 2016
Caterina Chinnici (S&D – Italy), head of the delegation to Tallinn and author of the mission comprehensive report, said the LIBE delegation had the chance to visit the seat of eu-LISA and see the practical workings of the Estonian police in the airport of Tallinn.
For her, the mission had a very positive outcome and the Estonia police was working in the right direction.
However, she said that a stronger border control should by required by all the EU agencies in order to efficiently fight against terrorism and that actors like eu-LISA should receive more adequate human resources and not only financial support.

Points 9,10, 11 – Electronic vote
During the meeting, MEPs were called to vote on

    1. a) a draft opinion on the provisions audiovisual media services in view of changing market realities. The amended text was adopted with 44 votes in favour, 5 against and 1 abstention.
    2. b) a draft report on a new synthetic psychoactive substance. The text was adopted by the Committee.
    3. c) a draft report on the agreement between the EU and the Principality of Liechtenstein on supplementary rules in relation to the instrument for financial support for external borders and visa, as part of the Internal Security Fund for the period 2014 to 2020. The text was adopted by the Committee.

 

12. Standard for the reception of applicants for international protection (recast)

Sophia In ‘t Veld (ALDE – Netherlands), rapporteur for this topic, presented a draft report on the proposal for a directive laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection.
For her, in order to reduce secondary movements the new measures on reception should focus both on imposing sanctions to people who try to abscond and on providing positive incentives to improve the conditions of asylum seekers in the host country.
The recast is intended to underline the importance of the incentives rather than the sanctions. Among these incentives, a key element could be the reduction in the period for the access to work from 9 to 6 months, as proposed in the draft report.
A precondition for the access to the labour market should of course be the possibility for asylum seekers to attend free language courses from day 1 in order to improve their chances to find a job. For the rapporteur, investing in education from the beginning is a good way to facilitate integration and this should start from the first moment, even though their application for asylum is still under evaluation.
The rapporteur also clarified that since it was a recast she decided not to touch some points, for example concerning the reception of child migrants, in order to respect the wider sense of the original directive (Directive 2013/33/EU).
MEPs’ interventions:
For Bodil Valero (Greens/EFA – Sweden) this recast constitutes an incredibly important element and it should be necessary to find a level of equality among Member States for the improvement of reception conditions in order to convince asylum seekers to stay in the country of first arrival. Such an improvement could in fact help reduce secondary movement. On the proposal to grant access to the labour market after 6 months from the arrival, she said that the timing limit should be zero and that asylum seekers should be assisted in their integration starting from day 1 especially when the application procedure would take some time (minimum 4 months for example).
Jussi Halla-Aho (ECR – Finland) said he could accept the purpose of reducing asylum shopping and secondary movement but he could not accept some points of the recast.
In particular, he said that using the principle of the carrot instead of that of the stick could be counter-productive. In his opinion, sanctions should be emphasized on people who don’t respect the rules.
According to Cornelia Ernst (GUE/NGL – Germany), language courses are necessary and should be free of charge for asylum seekers and asylum seekers should be given the possibility to start working as soon as possible because in this way they can earn money and reduce the financial burden on the host Member State. She also stated the importance of guaranteeing that children are not detained, thus touching the general sense of the reception directive if necessary.
Cécile Kyenge (S&D – Italy) said she was satisfied with the draft proposal and that the EU should look at the possibilities of facilitating the relocation process in order to reduce the burden on frontline States in a spirit of solidarity and shared responsibilities.
Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany) said that sanctions would only make sense if there were  efficient resettlement and relocation measures. For her, improving the conditions of asylum seekers is the prerogative and once this has been done, sanctions can be increased in order to make people respect the rules. She stated that Member States should first provide migrants with the necessary conditions to stay in the first country of arrival.
According to Roberta Metsola (EPP – Malta), giving people immediate access to the labour market could have some backwards in countries where unemployment rate is high, with serious consequences on the increase in populist discourse.
Alessandra Mussolini (EPP – Italy) stated that opening access to the labour market could have positive impacts since it would increase traceability of irregular migrants and it would reduce the burden on the host Member State. On child detention, she said that high numbers of child missing cases were reported and therefore minor detention should become an effective element to protect children and prevent them from falling into the hands of criminal organizations.
In conclusion, the rapporteur Sophia In’T Veld said that the recast should be considered as an element of a new EU package on asylum which should be adopted in the future. She also reiterated that the purpose of the recast should be to reduce secondary movement and prevent Member States from continuing to pass migrants like hot potatoes from one country to another. She added that nobody should be left to pass a cold winter in a tent, especially in Europe which should be the most prosperous continent in the world.  About detention of children, she said that it should never be accepted. She also said that deals with third countries, such as Libya, could not represent an alternative to a proper, efficient asylum package to be implemented inside Europe.

Point 13 – Implementation Plan for Directive 2016/681 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April on the use of passenger name record (PNR) data for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime
The PNR directive was adopted in April 2016 and two years of transposition are expected. We are now in the implementing phase.  The Commission staff working document presented during the LIBE Committee basically deals with three main points:
1) general overview.
In order to conduct this general overview, Members States have been organized in three clusters:

  1. a) those who are already in an advanced stage of the implementation process;
  2. b) those who are in an intermediate stage of the implementation process;
  3. c) those who are at an early stage of the implementation process.

This classification is not intended to name and shame or stigmatize any Member State: it simply aims to see where further action and support are needed. Information is collected by voluntary exchange of information by Member States.
2) guidelines for Member States.
The main points of these guidelines are:

  1. a) setting up of the passenger information unit (PIU);
  2. b) appointing a data protection officer within the passenger information unit;
  3. c) enacting the national legislation implementing the EU Directive;
  4. d) implementing operation and technical measures.

Behind each of these guidelines, there are a number of more detailed activities. These guidelines are intended to orientate the works of Member States.
3) support/assistance for the implementation of the directive.
This should be realized in two ways:

  1. a) though the increase of funding by Member States;
  2. b) through the organisation of meetings and workshops with the purpose of charting progress in implementation as well as offering Member States dedicated platforms to exchange information about the experience gained.

 

Point 14 – Registration of persons sailing on board passenger ships operating to or from ports of the Member States of the Community and amending Directive 2010/65/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on reporting formalities for ships arriving in and/or departing from ports of the Member States
Presentation by the Commission: this proposal deals with passenger safety purposes and it has no connection with security issues such as the PNR directive.
The objective is to facilitate search and rescue, with reference to follow-up activities after accidents in particular.
Helga Stevens (ECR – Belgium), rapporteur of this topic, explained that such a proposal would aim to simplify the EU passenger ship safety regulatory framework through a better identification of passengers travelling on ships form ad to the EU territories as well as through more efficient search and rescue operations and follow-up activities.
The draft report includes new relevant elements such as a simplification of the requirements for a cooperation among Member States and an enlargement of the types of information which should be taken on ships, with a particular focus on gender and nationality.
The rapporteur also confirmed that the passenger information could not be used in the framework of the PNR directive, as there should be no link between the two proposals. 
 

Point 15 – Joint Way Forward (JWF) on migration issues with Afghanistan and the EU and Standard Operating Procedures between the EU and the Republic of Mali
Presentation by Simon Mordue, Deputy Director-General for Migration, DG Migration and Asylum (DG HOME)
The presentation first dealt with the case of Mali. Mali was identified by the European Council, in its Conclusions of 28 June, as one of the priority countries with which the EU and its Member States should reinforce cooperation on migration.
In this context, developing cooperation in the area of return and readmission, through the negotiation of Standard Operating Procedures for the identification and return of persons without an authorisation to stay is one of the main objectives to be achieved.
Mali has long refused to conclude official readmission agreements with the EU and, following the examples of other countries, the Malian authorities have demonstrated to be more willing to engage with the EU in a more informal approach within the framework of the Standard Operating Procedures which are not legally binding but can constitute an important element for a return and readmission agreement concerning one of the biggest group of irregular migrants in Europe.

Then, the Commission presented the Joint Way Forward (JWS) on migration issues with Afghanistan. The declaration was signed in early October 2016 with after six months of negotiations.
Today, Afghans continue to represent the second irregular migrant group within the EU borders EU after Syrians. In 2015 they were the second national group in terms of number of asylum or international protection applications. However, a decrease was reported with regards of the number of international protections forms which were granted to Afghans, with a drop from 60% in 2015 to less than 40% in 2016. This has shed light on the fact the in the past Afghans were granted international protection because of economic reasons.
The EU is now adopting a stricter approach and therefore Afghans whose application for international protection is rejected need to be sent back to their country of origin.
A broader control is required to fight traffickers of human being in particular.
The Joint Way Forward aims therefore to facilitate the return process of irregular Afghans and to support their sustainable reintegration in the Afghan society, while fighting the criminal network of smugglers and traffickers at the same time.
It should be considered as a comprehensive approach regulating, though not in a legally binding form, the return of irregular migrants, i.e.  those who did not apply for asylum and/or those whose application was rejected.
The Joint Way Forward does not want to deal with refugee return and should operate in the total respect of international (the 1952 Geneva convention and the principle of non-refoulement).
An effective implementation of the Joint Way Forward is needed: since the document was signed, only 4 return and readmission operations out of a total of f 76 returnees were realized and 3 of these operations were conducted as a result of a bilateral cooperation between single Member States and Afghanistan and not in the framework of the Joint Way Forward. The document also aims to support assisted voluntary returns.
MEPs’ interventions:
Judith Sargentini (Greens/EFA – Netherlands) criticized the approach of the Commission on informal agreements and raised also some concerns on the link between development aid/trade agreements and the willingness of third countries to conclude formal or informal readmission agreements. In particular, she used the example of Morocco, with which an agreement is under discussion concerning the readmission of migrants coming from Morocco or who passed through Morocco to get to Europe. Morocco refused to take back migrants passing through its territory back but this does not mean that the EU has to stop its trade relations with the country.
Ana Gomes (S&D – Portugal) raised some concerns on two issues:

  1. a) the need for democratic scrutiny on readmissions in order to avoid a situation comparable to the case of the Italian police which concluded a secret agreement with Sudan;
  2. b) the inadmissibility of how readmission agreements with countries which do not have a real control on their territories such as Afghanistan and especially Libya.

Jussi Halla-Aho (ECR – Finland) stated that these informal agreements could represent an important instrument in order to readmit irregular migrants coming from Afghanistan and Mali and they should be concluded with other countries as well.
Marina Albiol Guzman (GUE/NGL – Spain) was completely against readmission agreements with Afghanistan and Libya since for her they are completely illegal and they are not addressing the problem of trafficking and smuggling. She also talked about the inadmissibility of including conditionality concerning financial and development aid as a way to blackmail countries.
Barbara Spinelli (GUE/NGL – Italy) underlined that all those sorts of informal agreements were being concluded with countries where there had been a sort of military intervention of the EU in the past (Mali, Afghanistan and Libya).
On the issue of Afghanistan she said that an agreement should not be accepted since the situation in Afghanistan is like that in Libya due to the fact that a portion of the country is still under the control of the Taliban.
Cécile Kyenge (S&D – Italy) said that in the case of Afghanistan it would be very difficult to distinguish between economic migrants and asylum seekers, especially for vulnerable categories such as children. She also raised some concerns about how to monitor the situation of these people after the have been sent back to a country which has been almost completely destroyed. She therefore proposed the option of humanitarian corridors instead of such informal readmission agreements.
Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL – France) raised the same issue concerning how to distinguish between economic migrants and asylum seekers for Afghans. She also mentioned the examples of other African countries, which the EU considers as safe although some cases of violations of human rights related to freedom of expression and sexual orientation were constantly reported.

 

Point 16 – Study “Fit for purpose?” The Facilitation Directive and the criminalisation of humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants
Presentation of the Policy Department study by Jennifer Allsopp, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.
The 2015 refugee crisis and the increasing perils and deaths of people intending to cross Europe’s borders have been a catalyst for concerted EU action towards the phenomenon of migration and the building of a common immigration policy.
The EU has given special attention to policies aimed at addressing the irregular immigration, trafficking and smuggling of human beings.
The European Commission’s European Agenda on Migration1 identified as a key priority the fight against smugglers and traffickers and called for improving the current EU legal framework to tackle migrant smuggling and those who profit from it.
One of the elements of the current EU legal framework on smuggling is Directive 2002/90/EC defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence (the Facilitation Directive).
The 2015 EU Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling for the period 2015-2020 announced that the European Commission would make proposals in 2016 to improve the Facilitation Directive. Simply speaking, the Facilitation directive provides dispositions on the sanctions that should be applied to people who facilitate the entry, transit and/or residence of irregular migrants.
According to the study, on the basis of this directive several types of criminalization and multiple forms of intimidations were experienced by civil society actors voluntarily assisting migrants with humanitarian aid as a legal and non-legal threat.
A deterrent element is represented by the fact that there is widespread confusions around how the facilitation directive is adopted within the legislation of each Member State.
MEPs’ interventions:
Cécile Kyenge (S&D – Italy) said that people could not be condemned for an act of solidarity.
Dietmar Koster (S&D – Germany) underlined the voluntary aspects of the commitment to humanitarian aid by NGOs and civil society organizations. In his opinion, this voluntary commitment cannot be sanctioned
For Barbara Spinelli (GUE/NGL – Italy) the role of civil society and NGOs is crucial since most Members States are not able to accomplish their relocation and resettlement activities. Therefore, it should not be admitted that civil society actors are challenged in their activities to provide assistance to migrants. She also said that such a legislation, instead of creating a deterrent for NGOs and civil society, in the case of Italy had resulted in the creation of a  vacuum in which most of the time criminal organizations would be ready to enter.

 

17 Conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly skilled employment
This point concerned the revision of the directive 2009/50/EC on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposed of highly skilled employment (Blue Card). Claude Moraes (S&D – United Kingdom), rapporteur of the session, presented the draft report on the proposal on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly skilled employment.
He said that the revised directive should aim to send a positive message concerning migrant labour through a simplification and a clarification of the procedures for the access to the Blue Card for highly skilled third country nationals. As key points to reach this simplification, he mentioned the enlargement of the scope of the directive, the need to make the general salary threshold optional for Member States, the importance of increasing the role of social partners and the need to simplify intra-mobility.
MEPs’ interventions:
Mariya Gabriel (EPP – Bulgaria) said that the revised Blue Card directive was intended to  make the EU a more attractive destination for highly skilled third country nationals. She confirmed the importance of the contacts with social partners at national level and the need to simplify access to labour market in order to widen the scope of the directive. In her opinion, every Member State should have the possibility to determine its own list of professionals because priorities vary according to the characteristics of the labour market of each single Member State. However, she raised some concerns on that fact that a large number of applications for the Blue Card is presented in countries at the periphery of Europe, but once the Blue Card is obtained third country nationals start thinking about the possibility to move towards the centre, especially to Germany.
Nathalie Griesbeck (ALDE – France) said the EU should accelerate the procedures for the adoption of the revised Blue Card directive in order to widen the scope and make more and more people have access to the card. She also said the EU should introduce harmonised tools in order to eliminate competitions at national levels.
Bodil Valero (Greens/EFA – Sweden) talked about the need to be more flexible concerning the opportunity given to highly skilled third country nationals to move to another country if they find another job there (intra-mobility).
Barbara Spinelli (GUE/NGL – Italy) said the report managed to improve the previous texts and to simplify the procedures to apply for the Blue Card. However, in her opinion the principle of free movement should be the added value which such a proposal should include in order to overcome national differences.

 

Point 18 –  Joint debate on a) conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of seasonal employment and b)conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals in the framework of an intra-corporate transfer.
Presentation by European Commission on the state of transposition of the seasonal workers directive and on the status of the ITC Directive. 
The Commission presented the current state of implementation as well as the practical applications of the two directives.
As far as the directive on seasonal employment is concerned, the Commission said that the main challenges for its implementation are the definition of the sectors of employment and the discussions on accommodation as well as the duration of stay. On the other hand, the main obstacles for the implementation of the directive on the intra-corporate transfer are the definition of the notion of intra-corporate transfer, the discussions on the procedures to apply for an intra EU mobility and the issue of remuneration.

 

Point 19 – Multi-annual framework for the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights for 2018-2022
Presentation by the Council Presidency of the Council decision on 28 November 2016  establishing a Multi-annual Framework for the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights for 2018-2022.
A multi-annual framework for the FRA is adopted every 5 years.
This framework establishes the thematic areas the FRA will deal with during the next period 2018-2022. According to the Council Presidency, the most relevant part of the draft decision at hand is Article 2 which establishes the thematic areas of competence of the for the period 2018-2022.
According to the draft report, the thematic areas should be the following:

  1. a) victims of crime and access to justice;
  2. b) equality and discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation, or on the grounds of nationality;
  3. c) information society and, in particular, respect for private life and protection of personal data;
  4. d) judicial cooperation, except in criminal matters;
  5. e) migration, borders, asylum and integration of refugees and migrants;
  6. f) racism, xenophobia and related intolerance;
  7. g) rights of the child;
  8. h) integration and social inclusion of Roma.

MEPs’ interventions:
Angelika Mlinar (ALDE – Austria) said that the scope of the FRA should be expanded especially to judicial cooperation in criminal matters which would probably represent the a very important element in the fight against terrorism.
For Barbara Spinelli (GUE/NGL – Italy) Roma inclusion and police and judicial cooperation are two extremely important elements. She also said that some issues could arise from the fact that the issue of terrorism and the duties of the EU on migration should be kept as two separated competences.

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