La solidarité n’est pas une valeur : la validation de la relocalisation temporaire des demandeurs d’asile par la Cour de justice (CJUE, 6 septembre 2017, Slovaquie et Hongrie c. Conseil, C-643/15 et C-647/15)

 

Par Henri LabayleCDRE

La rentrée judiciaire de l’automne 2017 était attendue impatiemment et le prononcé de l’arrêt Slovaquie et Hongrie contre Conseil, le 6 septembre, s’inscrivait en première ligne de cette attente. Le contexte en est connu, celui du refus des pays du groupe de Visegrad de se plier au programme de relocalisation des réfugiés initié au plus fort de la crise migratoire par l’Union. Deux d’entre eux l’avaient porté devant la Cour de justice.

La lecture des remarquables conclusions de l’avocat général Bot laissait entrevoir la possibilité d’un « grand arrêt ». Les enjeux en cause comme la nature des principes invoqués invitaient la Cour à une hauteur de vue à la mesure inverse des arguments développés par les requérants. L’occasion lui était offerte à peu de frais, par un arrêt clair et courageux, de se joindre au concert critique affectant certains nouveaux Etats membres quant à leur comportement lors de la crise de 2015. Peut-être même de réparer l’impression mitigée laissée par sa jurisprudence relative aux visas dits humanitaires et à l’accord UE-Turquie concernant cette période. Elle n’en a pas ressenti la nécessité, dans une Union doutant pourtant de son projet et de ses valeurs, préférant ainsi le biais à l’affirmation et l’omission à la condamnation.

I – Faute de proclamation, de l’instrumentalisation du principe de solidarité

Les données de l’affaire sont suffisamment connues pour ne pas appeler davantage de développements : l’adoption d’une décision du Conseil prévoyant la relocalisation contraignante dans les Etats de l’Union, sur une période de deux ans, de 120 000 personnes ayant manifestement besoin d’une protection internationale. Visant à soulager l’Italie et la Grèce, cette décision est fondée sur l’article 78 §3 TFUE. Ce dernier, « au cas où un ou plusieurs États membres se trouvent dans une situation d’urgence caractérisée par un afflux soudain de ressortissants de pays tiers », autorise le Conseil à adopter des mesures provisoires au profit de ces Etats en difficulté, sur proposition de la Commission et après consultation du Parlement européen.

Le recours en annulation de la Slovaquie et de la Hongrie va être soutenu par la Pologne tandis que la Belgique, l’Allemagne, la Grèce, la France, l’Italie, le Luxembourg, la Suède interviendront avec la Commission au soutien du Conseil. Cette ligne de fracture est très politique. Elle explique un arrêt long, détaillé et minutieux, fait de 345 considérants répondant aux 16 moyens soulevés par les requérants (!!!).

On passera sans difficultés sur les multiples points établissant la légalité externe de la décision contestée, malgré leur grand intérêt quant à la distinction entre acte législatif et acte non législatif et aux conséquences procédurales en découlant. Ce qui nous intéresse en l’espèce porte sur le fond de la politique européenne d’asile.

a. une dérogation provisoire au règlement Dublin

La première particularité de la décision 2015/1060 de relocaliser 120 000 personnes dans l’Union, outre sa charge symbolique, réside dans la brèche qu’elle ouvre dans le système de « Dublin » qui régit la politique commune d’asile. Elle est ouvertement revendiquée par son considérant 23 : relocaliser un demandeur dans un autre Etat que celui considéré comme responsable de la demande par le règlement « Dublin » constitue bien une « dérogation temporaire » à celui-ci.

D’où une contestation double, celle de la possibilité pour un acte non législatif de déroger à un texte législatif, et celle du caractère « provisoire » ou pas de cette dérogation, l’article 78 TFUE n’autorisant que des mesures de ce type.

Pour ce qui est de la première critique et après un examen minutieux, la Cour va estimer que les dérogations prévues par la décision attaquée ne mettent pas en cause des actes législatifs. Elles se limitent strictement à répondre de manière rapide et effective, par un dispositif provisoire, à une situation de crise précise. Elles répondent de ce fait et de cet ensemble de précautions à l’exigence d’un encadrement de leur champ d’application matériel et temporel. Aussi, elles n’ont ni pour objet ni pour effet de remplacer ou de modifier de manière permanente des dispositions d’actes législatifs (pt 79).

Pour la seconde critique, la Cour note d’abord que l’article 78 TFUE garde le silence sur la nature des « mesures provisoires » qu’il mentionne, sans qu’on puisse les réduire de manière restrictive. Elles doivent au contraire « revêtir une portée suffisamment large afin de permettre aux institutions de l’Union de prendre toutes les mesures provisoires nécessaires pour répondre de manière effective et rapide à une situation d’urgence caractérisée par un afflux soudain de ressortissants de pays tiers » (pt 77). Elle souligne aussi que le traité ne mentionne plus à leur sujet de limitation temporelle, à l’inverse de l’ancien article 64 TCE, et que la marge d’appréciation reconnue au Conseil durant cette période de 2 ans se justifie par le caractère « inédit et complexe » de l’opération.

Il en découle une série de jugements de valeur sur le choix technique et politique opéré par les institutions de l’Union.

D’abord, puisque leur objectif était de soulager deux Etats membres face à une situation d’urgence qu’ils étaient incapables d’affronter seuls, on ne saurait considérer que « le mécanisme de relocalisation d’un nombre important de demandeurs ayant manifestement besoin d’une protection internationale que prévoit la décision attaquée est une mesure qui serait manifestement impropre à contribuer à cet objectif » (pt 213). D’autant qu’il est accompagné par tout un dispositif de mesures complémentaires mais qui n’étaient pas suffisantes par elles-mêmes. Et peu importe en l’espèce que les déficiences structurelles des Etats sous pression n’aient pas été comblées dans les temps : « tout régime d’asile, même un régime ne connaissant pas de faiblesses structurelles en termes d’accueil et de capacité de traitement des demandes de protection internationale, aurait été gravement perturbé par l’afflux sans précédent de migrants qui a eu lieu en Grèce et en Italie au cours de l’année 2015 » (pt 214).

Ensuite, ce mécanisme s’inscrit dans un esprit de « système » clairement valorisé par la Cour et ce n’est pas le moindre des intérêts de l’arrêt rendu que d’insister sur cette cohérence. Non seulement la décision de relocalisation se contente de déroger au « système objectif » de Dublin auquel elle ne se substitue pas (pt 332) mais elle s’y inscrit pleinement. Pour la Cour, « bien au contraire, ces deux systèmes ne diffèrent, en définitive, pas substantiellement l’un de l’autre, en ce sens que le système institué par la décision attaquée repose, comme le système institué par le règlement Dublin III, sur des critères objectifs » (pt 333).

Enfin, la constance de sa jurisprudence ne se dément pas : la Cour s’inscrit délibérément dans la logique de la sauvegarde du système de « Dublin » et elle choisit de s’enferrer avec l’Union dans la défense d’une règlementation dont tout démontre, à sa quatrième version (!!!), qu’elle ne fonctionne pas…

b. une mesure justifiée par le principe de solidarité

La véritable réponse que l’on attendait de la Cour était celle relative à l’existence ou non d’une solidarité au sein de l’Union, autre que de façade. L’interrogation allait au delà du simple fait de savoir si choisir un mécanisme de relocalisation était ou non proportionné à la situation, en particulier au vu de son faible taux d’application deux ans après (COM (2017) 465), défaut d’enthousiasme malicieusement souligné d’ailleurs par les requérants. Malgré l’allusion qu’elle contient à la solidarité, la directive 2001/55 « protection temporaire » qui aurait pu faire office d’alternative pêche par le fait qu’elle dépend du bon vouloir des Etats membres. Exhortation politique ou obligation juridique, la portée du principe de solidarité dont l’article 80 TFUE dispose qu’il « régit » la politique d’asile, réclamait d’être enfin précisée.

La Cour ne se défausse pas sur ce terrain même si elle ne juge pas utile de lui consacrer la place qu’il mérite, sous par exemple la forme d’un considérant de principe. Au centre de la polémique, la solidarité et les formes qu’elles empruntent dans la politique d’asile de l’Union auraient sans doute mérité mieux. On se contentera donc du rappel bienvenu d’Yves Bot mettant « l’accent sur l’importance de la solidarité en tant que valeur fondatrice et existentielle de l’Union », persuadés avec lui que « nous touchons là à la quintessence de ce qui constitue à la fois la raison d’être et l’objectif du projet européen » (concl. précitées, pts 17 et 18).

D’emblée, la Cour prévient et cadre l’étendue de son contrôle au regard du principe de proportionnalité, dans des « observations liminaires » exprimant sa prudence : au vu du large pouvoir d’appréciation concédé aux institutions pour arrêter des décisions éminemment complexes et politiques, elle ne saurait aller au delà du contrôle d’une erreur manifeste d’appréciation. Seul, le « caractère manifestement inapproprié d’une mesure arrêtée dans un de ces domaines  » (pt 207) est susceptible d’affecter sa légalité, a fortiori face à une crise appelant une réponse immédiate, comme en l’espèce.

Dès lors, elle ne saurait censurer que dans le cas où il « est constaté que, lorsqu’il a arrêté la décision attaquée, le Conseil a, à la lumière des informations et des données disponibles à ce moment, commis une erreur manifeste d’appréciation, en ce sens qu’une autre mesure moins contraignante, mais tout aussi efficace, aurait pu être prise dans les mêmes délais » (pt 236). La Cour va donc opérer son contrôle au regard des faits et de la portée de la décision de relocalisation. Elle en conclut que le Conseil a pu « estimer à bon droit, dans le cadre de la large marge d’appréciation qui doit lui être reconnue à cet égard, que le caractère contraignant de la répartition des personnes relocalisées s’imposait au vu de la situation d’urgence particulière dans laquelle la décision attaquée devait être adoptée » (pt 246). A cet égard, l’échec des négociations d’une répartition par consensus conforte évidemment l’opinion selon laquelle il n’existait pas d’autre échappatoire qu’un mécanisme contraignant.

Le principe de solidarité est alors instrumentalisé par la Cour au détriment d’une proclamation solennelle que l’on espérait.

La Cour de justice aurait pu faire le choix d’une approche frontale, à l’image de celle de son avocat général, pour délivrer l’une des incises prétoriennes dont elle a le secret, consistant à reconnaître ostensiblement toute sa force juridique au principe formulé par l’article 80 TFUE. Elle préfère biaiser, utilisant sa traque d’une erreur manifeste d’appréciation pour parvenir à un résultat identique. En se penchant sur les motivations exprimées par le Conseil, elle constate que ce dernier « a considéré qu’il était essentiel de faire preuve de solidarité ». Coïncidence heureuse, il y « était effectivement tenu » en vertu de l’article 80 TFUE et des principes de solidarité et de partage équitable que ce dernier formule (pt 252) !!!

Bien évidemment, se plier à la satisfaction d’une obligation juridique en adoptant la décision de relocalisation face à l’urgence spécifique de la situation ne saurait constituer une erreur manifeste d’appréciation. D’autant que le Conseil a décidé de ce mécanisme contraignant en se fondant sur l’article 78 TFUE, « lu à la lumière » du principe de solidarité consacré par l’article 80 TFUE. Le caractère obligatoire du principe de solidarité au sein des politiques migratoires de l’UE est donc clairement posé et c’est un apport majeur de l’arrêt, mettant fin aux polémiques.

Restait à en dessiner les contours sinon le contenu précis, ce que la Cour va faire de manière impressionniste. Elle écarte d’abord d’un trait comme étant insuffisantes l’hypothèse de l’existence de mesures alternatives à la relocalisation avant de se pencher de façon plus symptomatique sur l’argumentaire de la Hongrie.

L’aplomb des autorités hongroises méritait en effet une réponse. Ayant refusé d’être bénéficiaires des mesures de relocalisation dont elles contestaient le principe par lui-même, elles n’en réclamaient pas moins d’être exemptées de leur obligation d’accueil. De leur point de vue, imposer à la Hongrie des contingents de réfugiés alors qu’elle avait elle-même besoin d’aide était à contraire à l’article 78 §3 TFUE, cette disposition jouant au profit des États membres confrontés à un afflux soudain de ressortissants de pays tiers.

La genèse de la décision attaquée permet alors à la Cour, en écartant le moyen, de donner quelques indications quant à la portée concrète de la solidarité. L’obligation de relocaliser ayant un impact sur tous les Etats exige que soit assuré « un équilibre entre les différents intérêts en présence, compte tenu des objectifs poursuivis par cette décision ». Or, lorsqu’un ou plusieurs États membres se trouvent dans une situation d’urgence, au sens de l’article 78 §3 TFUE, « les charges que comportent les mesures provisoires adoptées en vertu de cette disposition au profit de ce ou ces États membres doivent, en principe, être réparties entre tous les autres États membres, conformément au principe de solidarité et de partage équitable des responsabilités entre les États membres » (pt 291). Qualifiée comme un « élément fondamental » de la décision attaquée, cette donnée du principe de solidarité est donc un apport important : la solidarité ne peut être morcelée ou fractionnée. Sauf mécanisme d’ajustement contenu par ailleurs dans la décision et appliqué à d’autres Etats comme l’Autriche ou la Suède avec l’aval de la Cour.

Au total donc, l’arrêt de la Cour en avalisant le courage politique de quelques acteurs de l’Union permet de donner un sens à la solidarité actée par le traité.

Théorique, certes. La communication précitée (COM (2017) 465), publiée par la Commission le jour du prononcé de l’arrêt et à quelques semaines de l’expiration du programme fait ainsi valoir qu’au 4 septembre 2017, seulement  27 695 personnes avaient été relocalisées (19 244 depuis la Grèce et 8 451 depuis l’Italie), les bons élèves (Malte et la Lettonie) ayant rempli leur quota tranchant par leur vertu avec l’obstination de la République tchèque, de la Hongrie et de la Pologne à manquer à leurs obligations juridiques…

II – Faute de témérité, de l’approche biaisée des valeurs de l’Union

L’opportunité se présentait à la Cour, devant l’exemplarité du cas d’espèce, de prononcer un arrêt de principe. Indiquer le terrain sur lequel se situer en matière d’asile et les limites à ne pas franchir aurait été bienvenu. Le spectacle honteux des murs se dressant au fur et à mesure de l’avancée des colonnes de réfugiés en Europe centrale, les brutalités policières de certains Etats membres allant parfois jusqu’à la menace d’emploi d’armes à feu, les déclarations à l’emporte-pièce des responsables politiques face au paroxysme de la crise fournissaient une trame à un rappel de l’essentiel, à l’expression du fondamental.

Sans pouvoir jouer de l’ironie du président de la Commission félicitant Victor Orban de sa prise de conscience des bienfaits de la solidarité lors de sa demande de financement d’un mur anti-migrants, la Cour avait au moins la possibilité de clarifier ici les données et de guider les consciences. Elle ne l’a pas retenue.

a. l’impasse sur les valeurs de l’Union  

Offerte sur un plateau par un argumentaire de la Pologne dont on a peine à imaginer qu’il puisse trouver place dans le prétoire de Luxembourg, l’occasion était idéale pour la Cour de se placer au niveau de conscience des conclusions de son avocat général. Ces dernières mettaient d’emblée l’accent sur les valeurs fondant l’action de l’Union, qui doit en assurer la garantie, cadrant ainsi le débat contentieux pour ce qu’il est : une question de principe. L’économie d’un rappel de la Cour sur ce point déçoit par sa pusillanimité et elle fait douter de sa compréhension réelle des enjeux.

Placé entre guillemets par la Cour elle-même, presqu’avec des pincettes, l’argument sidère : des Etats « presque ethniquement homogènes comme la Pologne » (pt 301) ne sauraient accueillir des migrants relocalisés sur leur territoire car leur population en diffère culturellement et linguistiquement. Outre le fait que c’est le propre d’une politique d’asile et d’immigration (souverainement acceptée par l’Etat polonais lors de son adhésion aux traités de l’Union) que d’impliquer des différences humaines de cette nature, l‘argument de « l’homogénéité ethnique » nationale n’est pas acceptable et ses relents sont scandaleux.

La Cour préfère le registre rationnel en soulignant que la prise en compte de cette différence rendrait impossible de facto toute relocalisation : si elle « devait être strictement conditionnée par l’existence de liens culturels ou linguistiques entre chaque demandeur de protection internationale et l’État membre de relocalisation, il en découlerait qu’une répartition de ces demandeurs entre tous les États membres … et, partant, l’adoption d’un mécanisme de relocalisation contraignant, seraient impossibles » (pt .304). Evidemment.

Cela va de soi mais ce qui aurait été mieux en le disant est surtout qu’un argument de cette nature transgresse évidemment les valeurs de l’Union telles que proclamées par l’article 2 TUE. Dignité, pluralisme, non discrimination y figurent, entre autres… A l’instant où, pour sa conception particulière de l’institution judiciaire, la Pologne est menacée des foudres de l’article 7 TUE qui sanctionne la violation grave de ces valeurs, était-il déraisonnable ou contradictoire de s’opposer fortement à la revendication étatique d’une société « presqu’ethniquement homogène » ? Etait-il déplacé de refuser fortement de se faire l’écho des multiples déclarations publiques nationales écartant l’accueil des demandeurs de protection pour des raisons religieuses ou raciales ?

Benoitement, la Cour préfère l’approche désincarnée, celle qui met en avant l’article 21 de la Charte des droits fondamentaux et le principe de non discrimination pour estimer que « des considérations liées à l’origine ethnique des demandeurs de protection internationale ne peuvent pas être prises en compte en ce qu’elles seraient, de toute évidence, contraires au droit de l’Union et notamment à l’article 21 de la charte des droits fondamentaux de l’Union européenne » (pt 305). Dans le « de toute évidence », se dissimule sans doute la désapprobation du juge de l’Union …

Ce manque de courage est, en fait, un manque de lucidité. Ainsi, comment le juge suprême de l’Union peut-il marteler dans sa jurisprudence à destination des juges nationaux l’existence de cette « prémisse fondamentale » qu’est la « confiance mutuelle » entre les Etats membres sans, de temps à autres, parler le langage des valeurs et des droits fondamentaux et adresser aux sociétés nationales les signes de l’attention effective qu’il y porte ? S’y dérober affecte la crédibilité et donc la solidité de l’édifice, à court terme.

b. l’objectivation du droit des réfugiés

Un regret du même ordre accompagne les développements de la Cour relatifs au droit des réfugiés. Utiles et bienvenus, ces développements ne contiennent pas une once d’attention personnalisée pour les victimes qui en sont l’objet, pas un mot de compassion pour leur misère.

Avec un sens de l’humour qui peut dépasser l’observateur, les Etats requérants s’inquiétaient pourtant ouvertement des atteintes aux droits fondamentaux organisées par la décision attaquée. Le droit de rester dans l’Etat membre d’accueil était ainsi mis en avant par la Hongrie tandis que la Pologne en appelait, elle « aux standards de la protection des droits de l’Homme » y compris en se préoccupant des liens culturels et sociaux conditionnant leur intégration dans la société de l’Etat membre d’accueil…

La Cour écarte alors, très justement, toute accusation d’arbitraire se substituant au système objectif institué par le règlement « Dublin ». Valorisant à juste titre les critères retenus par la décision de relocalisation, liés à l’intérêt supérieur de l’enfant et aux liens familiaux, culturels ou sociaux, elle délivre deux enseignements majeurs.

Le premier confirme la priorité qui demeure la sienne, perceptible dans l’ensemble de sa jurisprudence relative à « Dublin » : faire en sorte que le régime commun d’asile fonctionne de manière effective. La lecture qu’elle en fait donne alors logiquement la préséance à une approche objective et non pas subjective.

Aussi, elle note sans difficulté que l’absence de possibilité pour les demandeurs de choisir l’État membre responsable de l’examen de leur demande exprime invariablement la même règle que le système « Dublin » : il n’existe pas de possibilité de choisir sa destination au profit des demandeurs de protection et d’exprimer sa préférence. Ce qui justifie qu’ils doivent disposer d’un droit de recours effectif contre la décision de relocalisation aux fins du respect de leurs droits fondamentaux. La raison en est objectivement exprimée par la Cour : « l’objectif de cette décision… est de soulager les régimes d’asile grec et italien d’un nombre important de demandeurs en les relocalisant, dans de brefs délais et de manière effective, vers d’autres États membres dans le respect du droit de l’Union et, en particulier, des droits fondamentaux garantis par la Charte » (pt 337).

Le second enseignement est un rappel. A la Hongrie qui avançait que la convention de Genève « comporterait un droit de rester dans l’État du dépôt de la demande tant que celle-ci est pendante », elle répète l’état du droit positif, souvent ignoré. L’examen obligé de la demande de protection est « une expression particulière du principe de non-refoulement qui interdit qu’un demandeur de protection internationale soit expulsé vers un État tiers tant qu’il n’a pas été statué sur sa demande » (pt 341). Ce qui est parfaitement exact.

Parce que le transfert d’un demandeur vers un autre Etat membre dans le cadre d’une opération de relocalisation afin d’examiner sa demande « ne saurait être constitutif d’un refoulement vers un Etat tiers », le moyen ne saurait prospérer. On est ici en face « d’une mesure de gestion de crise, prise au niveau de l’Union, visant à assurer l’exercice effectif, dans le respect de la convention de Genève, du droit fondamental d’asile, tel que consacré à l’article 18 de la Charte » (pt 343).

Au total, la Cour s’inscrit donc ici dans le fil de sa jurisprudence ordinaire tenant à la fois aux questions normatives et au fond du droit de l’asile. Dans un climat de tensions et un contexte politique européen détestable, elle ne souhaite visiblement pas dépasser les limites qu’elle s’est fixée : ni participer à ce débat, ni en être l’objet.

Parliamentary Tracker : Establishing an EU migrants resettlement framework

by Luigi LIMONE (FREE Group trainee)

Background

Yesterday, the European Commission and the High Representative, Federica Mogherini, have diffused the 5th Report on the progress made under the Partnership Framework on Migration and implementation of measures to address the situation along the Central Mediterranean Route, in line with the Action Plan on measures to support Italy.

The Partnership Framework on Migration was launched in June 2016 to step up as a priority cooperation with countries of origin and transit in Africa. Measures taken are aimed at saving lives along the migratory routes, increase protection of migrants and refugees, enhance resilience of host communities, address root causes of migration and open up legal ways to Europe for those in need, in particular with more resettlements for refugees.

A legislative proposal regarding the establishment of an EU resettlement framework is currently under discussion.

Towards an EU law on resettlement

Together with relocation, resettlement is recognised by the Council of the European Union as one of the three dimensions of the EU efforts to address the increasing migratory flows. The two others are return, readmission and reintegration of irregular migrants and cooperation with countries of origin and transit to tackle the root causes of migration. During the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting dating back to 20 July 2015, the EU Member States already adopted conclusion on resettling through multilateral and national schemes 22504 displaced persons from outside the EU who are in clear need of international protection.

On 13 July 2016 the European Commission launched a proposal for a EU Resettlement Framework to establish a common European policy on resettlement with the aim of ensuring orderly and safe pathways to Europe for persons in need of international protection. Such a proposal is part of the Commission reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and the long-term policy on better migration management set out by the European Agenda on Migration.

The proposal is intended to provide for a permanent framework with common standard  procedures for resettlement across the EU and should complement current national and multilateral resettlement initiatives, by providing common EU rules on the admission of third-country nationals, procedures in the resettlement process, types of status to be accorded by Member States, decision-making procedures for implementation of the framework and financial support for Member States’ resettlement efforts. According to Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the proposal represents “an integral part of the larger objective of ensuring that protection is offered to those who need it, reducing the incentives for irregular migration and protecting migrants from exploitation by smuggling networks and dangerous journeys to reach Europe”.

The Commission proposal widens the resettlement categories established by the UNHCR, by including persons with socio-economic vulnerability, persons with family links to third-country nationals, stateless persons or Union citizens legally resident in a Member State. Such a new framework will allow for two types of standard resettlement procedures: ordinary and expedited. Under the ordinary procedure, Member States will identify third-country nationals or stateless persons in a third country and assess whether they fall within the scope of a targeted resettlement scheme. With a positive decision, they can grant those persons refugee status or subsidiary protection status.

The expedited procedure is used in case of specific humanitarian grounds or urgent legal or physical protection needs, which justify rapid admission of third-country nationals or stateless persons to the territory of a Member State. The persons are granted subsidiary protection status and should be able to apply for international protection once admitted to a Member State. Member States will be entitled to €10 000 from the EU budget for each person they resettle. Nevertheless, they will only receive these funds when resettling through the Union Resettlement Framework. Resettlements under national schemes will not be supported financially by the EU budget.

The Commission proposal does not provide for a distribution key. Member States are given the possibility to decide how many persons they will resettle each year. Furthermore, it does not specify the scale of resettlement and the regions or third countries from which resettlement will take place, but it indicates that preference will be given to third countries which cooperate effectively with the EU in the field of migration and asylum, notably a third country’s efforts to reduce the number of irregular migrants coming to the EU from its territory, their cooperation on return and readmission and their capacity build-up for reception and protection. The proposal also includes grounds for exclusion of third-country nationals or stateless persons from the resettlement scheme, including those who have irregularly stayed, irregularly entered or attempted to irregularly enter the territory of the Member States during the five years prior to resettlement.

The proposal falls under the ordinary legislative procedure. In the European Parliament, it was assigned to the LIBE Committee under the rapporteurship of Malin Björk (GUE/NGL – Sweden). The draft report was presented before the LIBE Committee on 12 April 2017.

According to the draft report, resettlement should be recognised as complementary to other legal and safe routes to international protection, such as humanitarian visas, extended family reunification and humanitarian admission programmes. The EU resettlement framework should also complement other international structures for resettlement and build upon the work of the UNHCR, as well as support Member States’ national resettlement programmes. The draft report also provides that the EU resettlement framework should not depend on third countries’ cooperation on migration but should instead be based on humanitarian needs, contribute to global resettlement needs and serve as a protection tool.

As regards concrete numbers, the EU Member States host 8 % of the world’s refugees, which, according to the rapporteur, is few compared to other developed countries and not enough to reduce the burden on developing countries. The rapporteur therefore suggests that the EU framework should target the resettling of at least 25 % of the annual projected global resettlement needs as defined by the UNHCR. With regard to resettlement as a durable solution, the draft report suggests Member States should provide resettled persons with residence permits of permanent or unlimited validity, on terms that are more favourable than provided for in the current legislation.

After the presentation of the draft report, the shadow rapporteurs expressed the position of their political parties as well.

According to Agustín Díaz de Mera García Consuegra (shadow rapporteur for the EPP – Spain), a clear distinction between relocation and resettlement should be included in the report to prevent from confusion and overlapping definitions. In his opinion, it is very important that the EU commitment is fully supported by the civil society and the private sector and Member States should be encouraged to implement their resettlement programs through a number of incentives.

Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany) talked on behalf of Katy Piri (shadow rapporteur for the S&D – the Netherlands). According to her, resettlement is the only way possible to help people in need and prevent them from entering through illegal channels or smuggling networks. This fully reflects the EU humanitarian approach, which is intended to grant protection to people fleeing war and persecution through legal and safe pathways.

Helga Stevens (shadow rapporteur for the ECR – Belgium) said that the ECR group was going to present a huge number of amendments. She believes, however, that constructive consultations are possible and that the shadow meetings should focus on existing resources in order to think about a resettlement framework in a more practical way.

Cecilia Wikström (ALDE – Sweden) talked on behalf of Louis Michel (shadow rapporteur for the ALDE, Belgium). According to her, the European Parliament should work in a constructive way to create a mechanism based on equal sharing of responsibilities between Member States, with the aim of increasing the number of legal entry avenues for people in need of international protection.

According to Ignazio Corrao (shadow rapporteur for the EFDD – Italy), resettlement is a fundamental humanitarian tool to manage migration flows and the EU should reinforce its cooperation with third countries and work on practical numbers to understand the real proportion of this challenge. In his opinion, resettlement can be used to promote family reunification, but only as an element of last resort when family reunification channels cannot be applied.

The proposal on the EU resettlement framework was presented by the Commission at the meeting of the Asylum Working Party of the Council on 29 September 2016. On that occasion, a first exchange of views took place and serious concerns were raised on certain issues such as the mandatory character of resettlement schemes, the legal basis of the proposed act and the inclusion of internally displaced people (IDPs) among the categories that could benefit from resettlement. The Asylum Working Party finalised a first detailed article-by-article examination of the proposal on 17 January 2017. A second round of examination took place on 2 March 2017 and additional concerns were expressed with respect to the definition of resettlement and the possibility to include other forms of humanitarian admission, the admissibility criteria as well as the procedure that will be used for resettlement. Some delegations also voiced concerns regarding the Commission’s right to adopt delegated acts to complement some elements of the procedure.

Civil society organisations and international actors have expressed their support to the establishment of a framework for a structured and coordinated approach to resettlement within the EU, since they believe that such a framework can ensure greater participation and commitment towards resettlement from Member States and allow the EU to contribute more meaningfully towards global resettlement. However, they have raised serious concerns with respect to key aspects of the proposal. These concerns relate primarily to the way resettlement may be instrumentalised to encourage countries to cooperate on migration control and deterrence of irregular arrivals, but also to eligibility and exclusion criteria which potentially exclude many categories of refugees in need of resettlement, including vulnerable cases and those with no other solution in sight.

According to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), the fact that the proposal makes clear reference to the Partnership Framework risks making resettlement “a partnership activity” instead of a humanitarian programme that provides durable solutions for the most vulnerable. Inspired by the EU-Turkey deal that offers resettlement as a quid pro quo, the resettlement framework risks instrumentalising resettlement to exert leverage on partner countries. Amnesty International has strongly objected to resettlement becoming instrumental to the objective of migration deterrence and returns as well. The NGO is also concerned that the proposal would entrench EU-wide ineligibility criteria which aim to discourage irregular movement to and within the EU, since it is based on definitions and unfair grounds for exclusion

The Visegrad Four countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – have made no secret that they are trying to oppose the new relocation and resettlement schemes and put forward by the European Commission. Although the Visegrad countries have different position on the refugee crisis and there is political position among them, with Poland and Hungary being more resistant and the Czech Republic and Slovakia more open to the Commission proposal, all four countries argue that asylum seekers are not interested in long-term stays in Central or Eastern Europe and would seek to move to wealthier EU Member States. They challenge the new asylum policy and in particular the replacement of the defunct Dublin system and the quota system on migrant resettlement and relocation, claiming that the such reforms violate their national sovereignty.

With the need to reinstate a genuine mutual trust among Member States as a precondition for finding a shared solutions to the relocation impasse and to the migration challenge, an intra EU convergence on relocation and resettlement is crucial. Faced with the Visegrad countries’ resistance to relocation and resettlement schemes, the European Commission should definitely   decide to proceed with the adoption of a clearer “carrot and stick” approach: if Member States want to enjoy the benefits of the Schengen system, they also need to accept the responsibilities of formulating a common migration and asylum policy.

Parliamentary Tracker: The “qualification” Directive of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) is moving forward …

by Elisa SICLARI (FREE-Group trainee)

NB This post describes the current state of negotiations on the proposal of Commission to recast Directive 2011/95/UE “on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted”. Reference is made to the EU Member States positions as well as to the  most relevant amendments envisaged in the European Parliament by the LIBE Committee .

Foreword

The European system of asylum is the result of a long process beginning at an international level after the II World War and in particular due to the need to find a solution for all people displaced during the war atrocities.  As a matter of a fact, when United Nations created the 1951 Refugee Convention (Geneva Convention)[1] there was a clear limitation in scope referring to people persecuted in a specific area which was Europe and by events occurred before 1 January of 1951. With its Protocol of 1967 temporal and geographical limits has been removed and Geneva Convention reached an universal application on asylum.  Even the European Communities founding treaties made no reference to refugees and asylum seekers a first reference was made in the framework of the so called  “Political Cooperation” launched by the Single European Act which entered int force in 1987. But a clear legal basis for the European Union intervention in this domain was made by the Maastricht Treaty which entered into force on November 1st 1993 even if,  at the time it was still mainly an intergovernmental cooperation without a true association of the European Parliament and of the Court of Justice (under the so called “third Pillar” regime).

A progressive integration in the ordinary “Community” (“First Pillar”) regime was triggered by the Amsterdam Treaty which entered into force on the May 1st 1999

Already on 15 and 16 October 1999 in Tampere the European Council agreed to work towards the creation of a Common European Asylum System, on the basis of a full and inclusive application of the Geneva Convention of 1951 and its Protocol of 1967. Art. 63 of the (former) Treaty on the European Community was then the legal basis for the adoption of a first generation of EU legislation defining minimum rules on:
a) criteria and mechanisms to identify the Member State responsible for examining an application for asylum lodged by a third-country national in one of the Member States formerly covered by the so called “Dublin” Convention (see Council Regulation (EC) No 343/2003) ; 
b) minimum standards on procedures for granting or withdrawing refugee status in the Member States (see Directive 2005/85/EC );
c) minimum standards on the conditions that third-country nationals will have to meet in order to aspire to refugee status (qualification standards) (see Directive 2004/83/EC );
d) minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers in the Member States (see Council Directive 2003/9/EC)  [2].

In a first five years phase (1999-2004) the Council acted unanimously, after consulting Parliament, but after this initial phase, the Treaty empowered the Council to decide that after 2004 the normal codecision procedure should apply and that it should thus henceforth adopt its decisions by qualified majority[3].

The second generation of EU legislation was adopted after a detailed assessment of the impact of the first generation of legislative measures and notably after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty as well as of the EU Charter of fundamental rights whose articles 18 and 19 strengthened the duty of the EU in this domain. Between 2011 and 2013 the following measures have been agreed between the European Parliament and of the Council:

  •  Regulation (EU) No 604/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person (recast of Council Regulation (EC) No 343/2003) (so called “Dublin” Regulation) ;
  • Directive 2013/32/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection(recast of Directive 2005/85/EC of 1 December 2005) (so called “Procedures” Directive) ;
  • Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted(recast of Directive 2004/83/EC of 29 April 2004) (so called “Qualification” Directive);
  • Directive 2013/33/EU of 26 June 2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (recast of Council Directive 2003/9/EC of 27 January 2003) (so called “Reception” Directive).

All together these instruments form the current Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

However, unfortunately the mass influx of irregular migrants in 2015, showed all the weaknesses of the newly reformed CEAS notably because of the Member States lack of consistency and heterogeneous approach when transposing at national level the “Dublin” Regulation as well as the other asylum Directives. The  consequence of this has been an increasing  “asylum-shopping”, which incremented secondary movements of  migrants  moving to European countries where there are shortest durations of asylum procedures and best reception conditions. “Furthermore, although the Qualification Directive sets out rules on recognition and protection to be granted at Union level, in practice the recognition rate varies, sometimes to a considerable extent, between Member States”.  There are obstacles and blockades  even in the Resettlement and Relocation system for beneficiaries of international protection. The situation is straining to the limit European institutions and what is also serious and worrying is that the inability of the institutions to find a point of contact in this field, puts a strain on the respect for human rights of third-country nationals.

So, in the Post Lisbon  communication of the Commission of 6 April 2016 about reforming of CEAS and enhancing legal avenues to Europe, the main defined objective to reach is the transformation of the current system, (which is becoming extremely heavy on shoulders of Member States sharing the EU e external borders), into a new system which will work holistically by sharing equally the burdens among all the EU Member States. At the center of the new Common European Asylum System there should be not only the asylum seekers, but also people who are persecuted and are in need of international protection.

From a Directive towards a Qualification Regulation: the proposal of the Commission and reactions of others European institutions.

The aim of this first analysis is to focus on the recast of Directive 2011/85/UE, (Qualification Directive) which is the instrument throughout determining of Member States assess the application for asylum and allow to people in real need to benefit of specific rights in reason of their vulnerable situation. According ot the European Commission Member States have implemented Directive 2011/95 in many different ways and all these differences had lead to a different recognition rates among States, which encourage secondary movement of migrants. So, recasting Directive on qualification is one of the most important step in the reform of CEAS, as the first in order to guarantee an equal level of protection to all people in need by giving them the possibility to be safe and the possibility to have a new life avoiding speculation on the procedures of recognition.

The proposal of Commission to recast Directive 2011/95 starts by proposing the replacement of the Directive with a Regulation seen as the only instrument which can permit a convergence in this field.

The Regulation as a binding legislative will lead towards:

  • an harmonization of common criteria for recognizing applicants for international protection;
  • more convergence of the asylum decisions across Member States obliging authorities to take into account information on country of origin provided by the European Union Agency for Asylum and the European networks;
  • give protection only until there is the real risk of persecution without affecting a long term integration of beneficiaries of international protection;
  • reducing secondary movements of beneficiaries on one hand by determining the obligation to stay in Member States which is granting protection, on the other hand providing penalties linked to the Long term Residence Directive;
  • harmonization of the rights between beneficiaries of refugee status and subsidiary protection.

The Commission affirms that its proposal is founded on legal basis of: “[…]Article 78(2) (a) and (b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). These provisions establish that the EU enjoys powers to develop a common policy on asylum, subsidiary protection and temporary protection[…] Article 79 (2) (a) of the TFEU is added as a legal base due to the proposed amendment to the Long-Term Residents Directive 2003/109/EC related to beneficiaries of international protection.”. Furthermore, European intervention throughout a Regulation is offered to balance the situation among member States in respect of the principle of subsidiarity, and in order to achieve its scope in accordance with the principle of proportionality, such as affirmed by the Commission.

During the Asylum Working Party of the Council of the European Union, about these points set up by the Commission there were different reactions from States.

In a contribution of the Italian Parliament on 11/11/2016 there has been expressed the agreement about the intent to use a Regulation in this field, in order to reach more convergence among Member States and also about its legal basis.

On the contrary, in the first examination of the proposal for a Qualification Regulation by the Council of European Union on 15 December 2016(presidency Slovakia), Czech Republic and Estonia affirmed that this change is not justified and a Member State should have a margin of choice. This position was retreated by Estonia but not by Czech Republic and furthermore, in the examination of the compromise proposal of the Presidency on 24 March 2017 by Justice and Home Affairs Counsellors on 5/04/2017, Slovakia stances this position. Regarding to Spain it expresses “doubts about the suitability of the legal basis for turning the act into a regulation”. These positions are not changed in the last examination of the last compromise proposal of the Presidency on 27 April 2017 by JHA Consuellors on 10 May.

In the European Parliament, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (here and after Committee LIBE), chose Tanja Fajon (S&D) as the special rapporteur for the examination of the proposal of the Commission on the Qualification Regulation. She wrote the draft report after several debates with stakeholders and shadow rapporteurs, and she put in evidence a general agreement about the changing of the Directive into a Regulation[3]. During parliamentary debates has been underlined the fact that a proposal for a Qualification Regulation is seen as an important possibility to reach harmonization of criteria determining beneficiaries of international protection, and to give a better definition of rights that these people have to obtain.

In the conclusions of meetings of Tampere of the European Council in 1999, one of the intent was to give more opportunities to all people in need of international protection to ask for it, so it was decided to create a subsidiary protection to broaden the scope given by refugee status of Geneva Convention. Despite this objective, until today there are many differences between the two statuses concerning validity of residence permits, integration incentives and social assistance.

  1. A question of definitions: family members, acts of persecution, serious harm, environmental refugees.

In the framework of the legislation about international protection which is divided into two statuses, the definitions are essentials in the recast of the Directive on qualification and consequently the debate in the European Institutions is enriched by different perspectives.

First of all the definition of family members in the proposal of Commission at the Art. 2. 9(a),(b),(c),  has not undergone significant changes in confront to the Article 2(j) of the Directive 2011/95/UE.

From the Council there have been expressed some reservations about a definition of family members which was broadened to include as the family already existed before the applicant arrived on the territory of the Member States, and for example Belgium affirmed that: “the extension of the definition could lead to abuses. Such a situation should be regulated by the procedure for family reunification.”. Due to this fear, in the last examination by JHA Consuellors of the Presidency compromise proposal on 27 April of 2017, the Presidency intends to revert the text of the proposal to the old disposition of Directive Qualification, stressing on the fact that family members is a definition linked to a family created in the country of origin before the arrival in Europe, and concerns people who are on the same territory.

In the European Parliament, with the draft report of Tanja Fajon there have been proposed important changes about definition of family members. First of all she proposes to consider also families formed after their arrival on Member States excluding forced marriages in every case: this amendment was not included in the final report. In the amendment 39 added the point (ca) with includes siblings of beneficiary of international protection like family members, this prevision is linked also to the new recast of Dublin Regulation and was adopted in the Parliament’s report.

On. Zdechovsy (EPP)expressed his concern about these kinds of amendments, affirming that a definition such as that proposed could create confusion and as a consequence there can be an acceleration of the migratory emergency(Comm. LIBE 25/04/2017).

Referring to the definition of which circumstances can qualify a person eligible for refugee status there have been proposed many amendments at the Article 9. An important relevance to the phenomenon of human trafficking, considering it clearly like an act of persecution in light of Geneva Convention of 1951, is given by amendments of Barbara Spinelli (GUE) which were included in the final report:

  • The amendment at the point 9.2(a) intended to include among “acts of physical or psychic violence, including sexual violence and / or trafficking of human beings for exploitation purposes sexual[…]”;
  • The amendment at the point 9.7(f) it is specified: “acts directed specifically against a sex or childhood, such as recruitment of minors, mutilations genitals, forced marriages, trafficking minor and child labor, violence domestic, trafficking in human beings for ends of sexual exploitation, violations of the economic, social and cultural rights.”.

In the Commission proposal at the Article 10.1 d 2 on the reasons of persecution, about the definition of membership of a particular social group, the possibility to consider a membership based on sexual orientation is a disposition made with “might” and is oriented to exclude those acts considered to be in contrast with the national law of Member State.

In the compromise proposal of the Council of the UE, there have been some change in the orientation of Presidency and Member States. As a matter of a fact if the Presidency proposed to erase the disposition affirming that all criminal acts like “statutory rape” and “pedophilia” will fall into causes of exclusion but some Member States disagree. In particular Nederland and Slovakia affirmed that the erased sentence should be kept or used in a recital.

In the parliamentary debates, always about the Article 10 there have been amendments proposed by special Rapporteur Tanja Fajon on the point Art. 10.1 (d)2. She rejects this sentence justifying its suppression affirming that: “Linking sexual orientation to acts considered criminal is out of place and should be removed. Sexual orientation in legislation can never mean acts considered to be criminal and has no legal added-value since the concept of sexual orientation is clearly defined in European treaties and EU law, and thus also environment in national law.” On this point pursuing the same direction there have been many amendments, and the amendment 444 purposed by Barbara Spinelli, Cornelia Ernst furthermore add “gender expression” to the definition of “particular social group” in the light of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights ruling “where it was clarified that individuals can be at particular risk of ill-treatment (under Article 3 ECHR) in third countries where they are perceived as not conforming to the gender roles ascribed to them by society, tradition and even the legal system.” All these amendments were adopted in the final report.

Concerning the qualification for subsidiary protection (Art. 16) and so the definition of what is considered such as serious harm, another amendment proposed in the draft report of special Rapporteur of Tanja Fajon. The special Rapporteur would like to add to the Art.16  par.1 the point (ca) with which all consequences originated by a natural or man-made disaster are considered like a serious harm to life of a person. In this perspective are eligible to subsidiary protection the so-called environmental refugees. On. Barbara Spinelli (GUE) with the amendment 549 gave a list of which kind of events can be considered like natural or man-made disaster: “effects of climate change, land grabbing, water grabbing, desertification of the habitat, forced villagization as well as environmental disasters and pollution caused by war.” These amendments, both by Ms Fajon and Ms Spinelli, were not welcomed by the right and center-right wing groups and were not included in the final report.

  1. Duration of residence permits in the perspective of: stopping secondary movements, better integration, less burden on burocracy.

Member States in general support the idea of an harmonization between the refugee and subsidiary statuses about rights granted to beneficiaries of international protection. Despite this general orientation of European States, in the Commission’s proposal at the Art. 26 on Residence permits is expected a different period between refugee status and subsidiary status:

“(a) For beneficiaries of refugee status, the residence permit shall have a period of validity of three years and be renewable thereafter for periods of three years.

(b) For beneficiaries of subsidiary protection status, the residence permit shall have a period of validity of one year and be renewable thereafter for periods of two years.”

In the Council, the positions among Member States are not convergent. The tendency of Member States is to go forward a full harmonization giving both the same validity in order to stop secondary movements but until now there is not a total accordance about the length of these periods. As a matter of a fact there are some Member States which want to grant a validity for beneficiaries of refugee status of more than 5 years, and others Member States prefer to grant a validity of more than three years to both beneficiaries of refugee and subsidiary protection.

In the compromise proposal of the Council of UE (5 April), Netherlands affirms that: “The COM is proposing to keep differences between the rights attached to refugee status and subsidiary protection status. For NL, keeping the differences between both statuses will have the effect of considerable additional administrative burden for national systems.” Many Member States expressed that the prevision of three years of residence permit for refugees should be a minimum and Member States should have possibility to grant for a longer duration if they want (Italy). France purposes “for refugees the validity of the residence permit should be between five and ten years, renewable afterwards.”. Spain retains that the drafting could be “at least, three and five years”. This positions are not changed in the compromise proposal of the Council of 11 May. Concerning Residence permits issued for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection the validity was fixed between one and three years by the Council but France proposed to change it between one and five years. The Presidency underlined that in every case the issue of a permanent residence permit isn’t forbidden for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection. In a interinstitutional file sent the Presidency asks to the Permanent Representatives Committee(COREPER), to agree on a compromise which foresees:

“An initial residence permit for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection status with a validity period prescribed between one (1) and five (5) years;

An initial residence permit for beneficiaries of refugee status with a validity period prescribed between five (5) and ten (10) years.

Residence permits can thereafter be renewed in accordance with national law and can include renewal for an unlimited period.” In the last proposal of the Council of 24 of May for refugee stats this period should be from 5 to 10 years, and for subsidiary status between 1 and 5 yeas, both these residence permits will be renewable in accordance with national law.

In the European Parliament amendments purposed in the draft report of Tanja Fajon, about period of residence permits issued, are oriented towards a total harmonization of two statuses as a matter of a fact, for both is expected a residence permit of 5 years renewable thereafter for periods of 5 years and were adopted in the final report. This proposal pursues certain objectives:

  • The first one is to give an effective possibility of integration for beneficiaries of international protection at the same level;
  • Giving an incentive to people to don’t change Member State avoiding secondary movements;
  • The convergence among Member States on the duration of residence permits taking in account of current practice across the Member States and “should not be based on a ‘race to the bottom’ principle”;
  • Avoid excessive burden on burocracy.

During reunion of the Committee LIBE of 25 April, many points of views of rapporteurs shadow and members of Parliament found accordance with this amendment, by putting in evidence others reasons why this is necessary or underlining what the special Rapporteur affirmed. Always by using an approach oriented for a better integration of beneficiaries of international protection, On. Sophia in ‘t Veld (ALDE), stressed that if Member States are not capable to guarantee protection for long periods they can’t oblige asylum beneficiaries to integrate themselves (such as expected in the Art. 38 comm.2). On the same line is the intervent of the On. Brigitte Sippel(S&D) who supports that if States can afford only a protection limited to a number of years, individual may be disincentive to integrate themselves into societies “fast-food”.

Even more, an harmonization about the two statuses and as a consequence of both Residence permits issued, “will help to streamline the bureaucratic job by avoiding lengthening of time and possible illegalities”, such as affirmed by rapporteur shadow Alessandra Mussolini(PPE).

On the contrary is different the approach of On. Jussi Halla-Aho (ECR), who reports that amendments presented by group of ECR about Residence Permits purpose a period of one year for beneficiaries of international protection, and On. Tomáš Zdechovsky(EPP) affirming that he does not agree on the harmonization of periods of residence permits between beneficiaries of two statuses cause States should be free to choose such durations.

  1. Amendment to the Council Directive 2003/109/EC concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents.

Another prevision of the Commission to avoid secondary movement is: “by clarifying the obligations of a beneficiary to stay in the Member State which has granted protection and providing for additional disincentives through the modification of the Long-term Residents Directive, by restarting the calculation of legal residence required there in case the beneficiary is found in another Member States without the right to reside or stay.”(Art. 44). For both statuses is expected possibility to ask for long-term residence permit but this is used with a double perspective: like a measure to allow integration but, moreover, such as a mechanism of control on movements within European Union. It can be also seen such as a form of punishment for beneficiaries of international protection if they don’t stay in Member States which granted them protection.

By this second perspective, amendments upon Directive 2003/109/EC appear more finalized to strengthen Dublin system creating a second channel to help the Eurodac system, with the scope to track people who benefit of international protection creating consequences directly on them.

By the Council there is agreement on the prevision of this kind of punitive mechanism. In the last proposal of the Council on 24 of May it has been added that each Member States shall bring into force their national law to comply with this provision by two years which is a more long time in confront of the Commission proposal(6 months).

During discussions in the European Parliament, on this aspect and on necessity to stop secondary movements, the rapporteur shadow Alessandra Mussolini(PPE) said that should be preferred an approach based on proportionality, which takes in consideration reasons why beneficiaries choice to move instead to act immediately throughout the punitive mechanism appointed by the Commission. Tanja Fajon added, at the amendment at the Art 44.1, that for beneficiaries of international protection should be taken into account the period before the recognition of the status in the calculation of the period planned to gain the status of long-term resident. This amendment was approved in the final report.

Point of view completely opposed was expressed by Jussi Alla-Aho(ECR) who affirmed that international protection needs to be temporary and that only beneficiaries really integrated should have possibility to ask for others kind of residence permits.

The prevision to oblige Member States to review refugee and subsidiary statuses.

In the proposal of the Commission at Art. 15 is foreseen a periodical obliged review of statuses of international protection, such decision is justified by the Commission affirming that despite in the Directive there were provisions about it often Member States did not respect them.

In view of the above, the Commission decided to set up Art. 15 in this way:

“Review of refugee status

In order to apply Article 14(1) “Revocation of, ending of or refusal to renew refugee status”, the determining authority shall review the refugee status in particular:

(a) where Union level country of origin information and common analysis of country of origin information as referred in Articles 8 and 10 of Regulation (EU) No XXX/XX [Regulation on the European Union Agency for Asylum] indicate a significant change in the country of origin which is relevant for the protection needs of the applicant;

(b) when renewing, for the first time, the residence permit issued to a refugee.”

In Council of European Union there has been support as regards a review triggered by a change in EU level County of origin information (Art. 15 a), but always concerning the point (a), in the Council of European Union many States BG, ES, IE, PT expressed their reservation about the fact that in this provision should be used the term “may” instead of the term “shall”. The Presidency supports that the review of cases should not be a “may” provision cause it would not lead to harmonization, as a matter of a fact in the last revision of the text on 24 May, the Council is maintaining it like a “shall” provision.  Even more Germany affirmed that should be more clarified the expression of  “significant change” due to which a State could withdraw statuses, and in the end it retains that Member States should take in consideration others sources of information and analyses like national information.

In the contribution of the Italian Parliament it expressed that also if there is a sharing about necessity to verify periodically the need of protection but this implementation, when politics of resettlement and relocation have failed, could be a danger for the reception systems of the Member States at the external borders and as a consequence on levels of assistance granted to asylum seekers. In this light, Italian Parliament suggests a more careful assessment o fan impact of this kind of provision; related to this point is also suggested to extend the period of residence permit for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection to avoid a burden on determining authorities.

Concerning point (b), this one has been deleted in the last proposal of the Council cause Member States are worried of the administrative burden it could entail if there were a general obligation to do a cessation check each time a residence permit is renewed.  Belgium expresses its reservation because “the introduction of regular review of the status is justified, but it is related to the provision of additional resources by the MS and additional administrative burden”. In the last proposal of the Council on 24 of May, always about point (b), it has been affirmed that it should be possible do some kind of review of the status also before extending the residence permit to correct errors and for important reasons pursuant to national law.

However, a number of Member States indicated that “the possibility to issue residence permits on other grounds (humanitarian or legal migration ground) upon cessation of the protection status should not be undermined, and of the importance of not unduly undermining integration prospects via the perception that the protection may only be temporary.”

In the European Parliament the discussion about a systematic review of protection has been not so different by that in Council of UE. The adopted amendments of the special Rapporteur Tanja Fajon are oriented to change this prevision into a “may” provision just where information on countries of origin at Union level and common analysis show a relevant change. It was proposed to change it in order to avoid excessive burden on determining authorities in particular of States at the external borders, but in addiction it should be changed cause could create a sense of instability and insecurity for beneficiaries of international protection. The possibility of a review obliged should be only when is registred an important changing of the security situation in the origin country of beneficiaries, such as affirmed by Rapporteur shadow Alessandra Mussolini, nevertheless, during the vote at Committee level, the Parliament decided to the delete the aforementioned paragraph b.

On the contrary Jussi Halla-Aho (ECR) during reunion of Committee LIBE of 25 April, retained that an assessment of the status once the residence permit has been renewed should be obligatory because is better an administrative burden instead of a burden due to efforces in helping people who don’t want to be integrated.

Another related point discussed was about the proposal of the Commission over the time of three months (Art. 14(5); 20(3)) given to the person whose the status is revoked due to change of circumstances, to try to change his/her status if other grounds can justify it.

By the Council of UE there was a complete deletion of both points related to the prevision of this grace period but Italy proposed to maintain the period.

The framework of amendments expected by members of the European Parliament about this point is very etherogeneus starting from a proposal of amendment presented by On. Jeroen Leaners (EPP), to give effect immediately the decision of withdrawal without a “period of grace” which can be granted by a decision of States; to a proposal of amendment of On. Jean Lambert(GREENS/EFA) and On. Barbara Spinelli(GUE) who want to extend the prevision of this period from three months to nine months.

The changes proposed for minors.

About minors, in the proposal of the Commission on a Qualification Regulation, and also by all the European institutions, is always stressed that in every case, starting from a presentation of request of international protection by a minor, the determining authorities of Member States will assess the “best interests of the child” as well as child specific form of persecutions. In this optical Member State shall consider “the principle of family unity, the minor’s well-being and social development, safety and security considerations”. Furthermore for minors beneficiaries shall be granted the access to the healthcare and the education system such as nationals of the Member States (Art.  35(2); 31(1)).

In the definition of family members of the text of the Commission at the Article 2(9)(b), is put forward that a minor children is considered as a family member of couples “on condition they are unmarried”. But in the European Parliament the amendment 37 made by the special Rapporteur Tonja Fajon in her draft report erase this sentence justifying that shouldn’t be take in consideration the “married or unmarried status of children when determining the members of a family”. These amendments were included in the final report.

There have been proposals from the Council and the European Parliament to amend Art. 36 concerning Unaccompanied minors, such as proposed by the Commission. From the date of the assignment of the unaccompanied minor’s legal guardian within five working days from the grant of international protection. The Directive 2011/95/ EU did not specify the period within which this assignment was to be made.

During the work in the Council of UE, in the compromise proposal on 21 February 2017, the debate over this period began with the proposal by the Presidency to extend it from five to fifteen working days. Greece affirmed that deadline proposed could be problematic, and Belgium “suggests to be prescribed one month maximum term from the entry into force of the decision for protection. For the purpose of the procedure for international protection, the unaccompanied child shall have a representative appointed to carry out his / her representative functions until the appointment of a guardian. It could be provided that the representative may, during the ongoing procedure, take action to appoint a guardian. In this way a guardian could be appointed before a decision on substance was taken.” In the last compromise proposal of the Presidency on 24 May 2017, the forecast for this period was suppressed leaving the Member States free to choose on that in respect of national law.

In the European Parliament  the changes proposed concern first of all to make as soon as possible the assignment of the legal guardian for the unaccompanied minor, considering the five-day non-working term. It is also requested that this assignment is made not only as a result of the granting of international protection but from the date of the application or the entry of the child into the Member State. In every case, this second assignment must be carried out as soon as possible and only when it is not possible to keep the guardian assigned to the minor upon his entry into the Member State, also to avoid too many changes of tutors that could be problematic for minors. In addition, it is required by the European Parliament, that the assigned tutor shall be evaluated within the first month of activity as well as periodically. All amendments were included in the Parliament report.

In the Parliament’s final report, with regard to the housing of unaccompanied minors it is proposed not only that the structures are adequate but that they are “opened” structures in accordance with the vulnerability of children and their safety.

Finally, in the proposal of the commission to the Art.36(5) regarding the search for the unaccompanied minor’s family it is foreseen, if it had not already been initiated, that it shall start as soon as possible after the recognition of child protection. In the final report of the European Parliament such research should be started as soon as the child submits the application.

Conclusions: a possibility to made Europe a safe point of arrival and not a Fortress with walls to override.

In the perspective to give a common guidance for Member States, the adoption for a Qualification Regulation is the better way to reach harmonization and convergence among States. This convergence should be well oriented towards those good practices which some States implemented under the Directive 2011/95/UE and to a more attention for human rights, rather than an approach created only with the purpose to stop secondary movements. This problem should be more properly considered in the reform of Dublin System, if it wants to be preserved the current approach.

The starting point given by the proposal of the Commission is an important input to the European Parliament which has a wide space to work and consequently the possibility to improve the current framework.

In the Parliament of UE and in the Council about certain points are emerged points of views which can find a link. Sometimes thanks to the will of Member States to avoid excessive burdens on determining authorities and on Member States to the external borders such as avoid secondary movements, or thanks to the shared aim to find solutions more guarantees for beneficiaries of international protection.

On the other hand it’s clear is not so simple to find a contact point with some more extremist positions due to the fear to create provisions that in some way could encourage immigration and in particular economic migration.

In view of the fact that we are facing a very particular historical period (wars and environmental disasters), and consequently in the future the immigration crisis is not short to the end, it is open to question if take in consideration a more opened definition of family could be maybe an additional resource for beneficiaries of international and humanitarian protection.

The “trilogue” between the co-legislators is about to start and a possible compromise and vote on the proposal of Regulation Qualification could take place before the end of the year. It would desirable it would  be in favour of more guarantees for human beings and respectful of human rights, and that could happen thanks to the amending job made in European Parliament.

NOTES

[1]Which finds its ground in the article 14 of the Universal Declaration.

[2]http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/HTML/?uri=LEGISSUM:a11000&from=IT

[3]Amendment 103 purposed by Barbara Spinelli, Malin Björk about to the Recital 1 where the adoption of the Regulation is not justified with the aim of an harmonization also“[…]to reduce incentives to circulation within the Union European”, but is more human rights oriented standing that it is necessary to grant an harmonization “[…]on the basis of high standards of protection”.

Counter-terrorism and the inflation of EU databases

Original published on Statewatch (*) on May 2017

By Heiner Busch (@Busch_Heiner) and Matthias Monroy (@matthimon)  (Translation from DE by Viktoria Langer)

The topic of counter-terrorism in Europe remains closely linked to the development and expansion of police (and secret service) databases. This was the case in the 1970s, after 11 September 2001 and has also been the case since 2014, when the EU Member States started working on their action plans against ‘foreign terrorist fighters’.

The first effect of this debate has been a quantitative one: the amount of data in the relevant databases has increased explosively since 2015. This can be seen by looking in particular at available data on the Europol databases, like ‘Focal Points’ (formerly: Analytical Work Files) of the Europol analysis system. Since 2015 they have become one of the central instruments of the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) which was established in January 2016. ‘Hydra’, the ‘Focal Point’ concerning Islamist terrorism was installed shortly after 9/11. In December 2003 9,888 individuals had been registered, a figure that seemed quite high at the time – but not compared with today’s figures. [1] In September 2016 ‘Hydra’ contained 686,000 data sets (2015: 620,000) of which 67,760 were about individuals (2015: 64,000) and 11,600 about organisations (2015: 11,000).

In April 2014 an additional ‘Focal Point’, named ‘Travellers’, was introduced, which is exclusively dealing with “foreign terrorist fighters” (FTF). One year later ‘Travellers’ included 3,600 individuals, including contact details and accompanying persons. In April 2016 the total number increased by a factor of six. Of the 21,700 individuals registered at the time, 5,353 were “verified” FTFs. In September 2016, of 33,911 registered individuals, 5,877 had been verified as FTFs.

Since 2010 Europol and the USA have operated the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP), which evaluates transfers made via the Belgian financial service provider SWIFT. Until mid-April 2016 more than 22,000 intelligence leads had been arisen out of that programme, of which 15,572 since the start of 2015. 5,416 (25%) were related to FTFs.

In contrast to Europol’s analytical system, the Europol Information System (EIS, the registration system of the police agency) can be fed and queried directly from the police headquarters and other authorities of EU Member States. Here, more than 384,804 ‘objects’ (106,493 individuals) were registered at the start of October 2016, 50% more than the year before. The increase is partly due to the growing number of parties participating in the EIS. In 2015 13 Member States were connected; in 2016 19 Member States. Some of the EU States, like the UK, also let their national secret services participate in the system. 16 Member States currently use automatic data uploaders for input. The number of third parties involved has also increased (in 2015 there were four, in 2016 there were eight). Interpol, the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security are some of them.

Europol has reported further growth in the number of “objects” linked to terrorism in the EIS. According to the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU’s schedule for the improvement of information exchange and information management, in the third quarter of 2016 alone these grew another 20% to 13,645. [2] The EIS includes 7,166 data sets about individuals linked to terrorism, of which 6,506 are marked as FTFs or their supporters, or are assumed to be so. For May 2016 the CTC stated a figure of 4,129. [3] The increase in terrorism linked data can also be seen in the Schengen Information System (SIS) – in the alerts for “discreet checks or specific checks” following Article 36 of the SIS Decision. According to this, suspect persons are not supposed to be arrested. However, information about accompanying persons, vehicles etc. are recorded to provide insight into movements and to keep tabs on the contacts of the observed person. At the end of September 2016 the number of such checks by the police authorities (following Article 36(2)) was 78,015 (2015: 61,575, 2014: 44,669). The number of alerts of the national secret services based on Article 36(3) was 9,516 (2015: 7,945, 2014: 1,859). “Hits” on such alerts and additional information are supposed to be sent directly to the alerting authorities and not as usual to national SIRENE offices (which deal with the exchange of supplementary information regarding alerts in the SIS). This option was only introduced in February 2015.

The Schengen states used the instrument for discreet surveillance or specific checks very differently. On 1 December 2015 44.34% of all Article 36 alerts came from authorities in France, 14.6% from the UK, 12.01% from Spain, 10.09% from Italy and 4.63% from Germany. [4] How many of these alerts actually had a link to terrorism remains unclear; a common definition has not yet been found. However, the Council Working Party on Schengen Matters agreed on the introduction of a new reference (“activity linked to terrorism”) for security agencies’ alerts. According to Federal Ministry for the Interior, German alerts are marked with this reference when concrete evidence for the preparation of a serious act of violent subversion (§§129a, 129b Penal Code) can be presented. [5]

‘Unnoticed in the Schengen area’ Continue reading

Worth reading : the final report by the EU High Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability (HLEG),

NB: The full version (PDF)  of the Report is accessible HERE

On May 8th the (EU) High Level Expert Group on Information Systems and Interoperability (HLEG) which was set up in June 2016 following the Commission Communication on “Stronger and Smarter Information Systems for Borders and Security ” has published its long awaited 56 long pages Report on Information Systems and Interoperability.

Members of the HLEG were the EU Members States (+ Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein), the EU Agencies (Fundamental Rights Agency, FRONTEX, European Asylum Support Office, Europol and the EU-LISA “Large Information Support Agency”) as well as the representatives of the Commission and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) and the Anti-Terrorism Coordinator (an High Council General Secretariat Official designated by the European Council).

Three Statements, respectively of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, of the European Data Protection Supervisor and of the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator (CTC),  are attached. The first two can be considered as a sort of partially dissenting Opinions while the CTC  statement is quite obviously in full support of the recommendations set out by the report as it embodies for the first time at EU level the “Availability Principle” which was set up already in 2004 by the European Council. According to that principle if a Member State (or the EU) has a security related information which can be useful to another Member State it has to make it available to the authority of another Member State. It looks as a common sense principle which goes hand in hand with the principle of sincere cooperation between EU Member States and between them and the EU Institutions.

The little detail is that when information is collected for security purposes national and European legislation set very strict criteria to avoid the possible abuses by public EU and National Law enforcement authorities. This is the core of Data Protection legislation and of the art. 6, 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which prevent the EU and its Member States from becoming a sort of Big Brother “State of surveillance”. Moreover, at least until now these principles have guided the post-Lisbon European Court of Justice jurisprudence in this domain and it is quite appalling that no reference is made in this report to the Luxembourg Court Rulings notably dealing with “profiling” and “data retention”(“Digital Rights”, “Schrems”, “TELE 2-Watson”…).

Needless to say to implement all the HLWG recommendations several legislative measures will be needed as well as the definition of a legally EU Security Strategy which should be adopted under the responsibility of the EU co-legislators. Without a strong legally founded EU security strategy not only the European Parliament will continue to be out of the game but also the control of the Court of Justice on the necessity and  proportionality of the existing and planned EU legislative measures will be weakened.  Overall this HLWG report is mainly focused on security related objectives and the references to fundamental rights and data protection are given more as “excusatio non petita” than as a clearly explained reasoning (see the Fundamental Rights Agency Statement). On the Content of the  perceived “threats” to be countered with this new approach it has to be seen if some of them (such as the mixing irregular migration with terrorism)  are not imaginary and, by the countrary, real ones are not taken in account.

At least this report is now public. It will be naive to consider it as purely “technical” : it is highly political and will justify several EU legislative measures. It will be worthless for the European Parliament to wake up when the formal legislative proposals will be submitted. If it has an alternative vision it has to show it NOW and not waiting when the Report will be quite likely “endorsed” by the Council and the European Council.

Emilio De Capitani

TEXT OF THE REPORT (NB  Figures have not been currently imported, sorry.)

——- Continue reading

Immigration detention and the rule of law: the ECJ’s first ruling on detaining asylum-seekers in the Dublin system

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS (May 5,2017)

by Tommaso Poli (LL.M. candidate in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at the University of Essex, School of Law).

One of the most controversial issues in immigration law is the detention of asylum-seekers. This issue was not initially addressed by the European Common Asylum System (CEAS), but is now addressed in some of the second-phase CEAS measures (the CEAS consists of the Asylum Procedures Directive, the Reception Conditions Directive, the Qualification Directive, the Dublin Regulation and the EURODAC Regulation).

In particular, the second-phase CEAS measures contain detailed rules on detaining asylum-seekers in two cases:  a) general rules in the Reception Conditions Directive, which were the subject of a first ECJ ruling in 2016 (discussed here) and a recent opinion of an Advocate-General; and b) more specific rules in the Dublin III Regulation, applying to asylum-seekers whose application is considered to be the responsibility of another Member State under those rules. Recently, the ECJ ruled for the first time on the interpretation of the latter provisions, in its judgment in the Al Chodor case.

As we will see, the Court took a strong view of the need for the rule of law to apply in detention cases. Moreover, its ruling is potentially relevant not just to Dublin cases, but also detention of asylum-seekers and irregular migrants in other contexts too.

The rules on detaining asylum-seekers in the context of the Dublin process are set out in Article 28 of the Dublin III Regulation. First of all, Article 28(1) states that asylum seekers can’t be detained purely because they are subject to the Dublin process. Then Article 28(2) sets out the sole ground for detention: when there is a ‘significant risk of absconding’. If that is the case ‘Member States may detain the person concerned in order to secure transfer procedures in accordance with’ the Dublin rules, ‘on the basis of an individual assessment and only in so far as detention is proportional and other less coercive alternative measures cannot be applied effectively’.

Next, Article 28(3) sets out detailed rules on time limits for ‘Dublin detention’; these are the subject of the pending Khir Amayry case. Finally, Article 28(4) states that the general rules on guarantees relating to procedural rights and detention conditions set out in the Reception Conditions Directive apply to asylum-seekers detained under the Dublin rules.

Al Chodor concerned the interpretation of the grounds for detention under Article 28(2): what is a ‘serious risk of absconding’?  The Dublin III Regulation offers some limited clarity, defining ‘risk of absconding’ as ‘the existence of reasons in an individual case, which are based on objective criteria defined by law, to believe that an applicant or a third country national or a stateless person who is subject to a transfer procedure may abscond.’ (Article 2(n) of the Regulation).

Facts

The case relates to an Iraqi man and his two minor children who were traveling from Hungary in the Czech Republic, without any documentation to establish their identity, with the aim of joining family members in Germany. After stopping the Al Chodors, the Czech Foreigners Police Section (FPS) consulted the Eurodac database and found that they had made an asylum application in Hungary. As a consequence, the Al Chodors were subjected to the transfer procedure according to Article 18(1)(b) of the Dublin III Regulation. In addition, the FPS took the view that there was a ‘serious risk of absconding’, given that the Al Chodors had neither a residence permit nor accommodation in the Czech Republic, while they were waiting for their transfer to Hungary.

So, they placed the Al Chodors in detention for 30 days pending their transfer pursuant to Paragraph 129(1) of the national law on the residence of foreign nationals, read in conjunction with Article 28(2) of the Dublin III Regulation. The Al Chodors brought an action against the decision ordering their detention to the regional Court, which annulled that decision, finding that Czech legislation does not lay down objective criteria for the assessment of the risk of absconding within the meaning of Article 2(n) of the Dublin III Regulation. That Court accordingly ruled that the decision was unlawful. Following the annulment of the decision of the FPS, the Al Chodors were released from custody.

The FPS brought an appeal on a point of law before the Supreme Administrative Court against the decision of the Regional Court. According to the FPS, the inapplicability of Article 28(2) of the Dublin III Regulation cannot be justified by the mere absence in Czech legislation of objective criteria defining the risk of absconding. That provision subjects the assessment of the risk of absconding to three conditions, namely an individual assessment taking account of the circumstances of the case, the proportionality of the detention, and the impossibility of employing a less coercive measure. The FPS has submitted that it satisfied those conditions.

The Supreme Administrative Court was uncertain whether the recognition by its settled case-law of objective criteria on the basis of which the detention of persons pursuant to Paragraph 129 of the Law on the residence of foreign nationals may be carried out can meet the requirement of a definition ‘by law’ within the meaning of Article 2(n) of the Dublin III Regulation, in so far as that case-law confirms a consistent administrative practice of the FPS which is characterised by the absence of arbitrary elements, and by predictability and an individual assessment in each case. So the Court decided to refer to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling asking whether Article 2(n) and Article 28(2) of the Dublin III Regulation, read in conjunction, must be interpreted as requiring Member States to establish, in a national law, objective criteria underlying the reasons for believing that an applicant for international protection who is subject to a transfer procedure may abscond, and whether the absence of those criteria in a national law leads to the inapplicability of Article 28(2) of that regulation.

Judgment

The Court of Justice first of all ruled that Article 2(n) of the Dublin III Regulation explicitly requires that objective criteria defining the existence of a risk of absconding be defined by the national law of each Member State (paragraph 27-28). Then, determining whether the word ‘law’ must be understood as including settled case-law, the Court reaffirmed that in interpreting a provision of EU law, it is necessary to consider not only its wording but also the context in which it occurs and the objectives pursued by the rules of which it forms part (judgment of 26 May 2016, Envirotec Denmark, paragraph 27).

So with regard to the general scheme of the rules of which Article 2(n) of Dublin III Regulation forms part, the Court, referring to recital 9 of that regulation, states that the regulation is intended to make necessary improvements, in the light of experience, not only to the effectiveness of the Dublin system but also to the protection of fundamental rights afforded to applicants under that system. This high level of protection is also clear from Articles 28 and 2(n) of that regulation, read in conjunction. As regards the objective pursued by Article 2(n) of the Dublin III Regulation, read in conjunction with Article 28(2) thereof, the Court recalls that, by authorizing the detention of an applicant in order to secure transfer procedures pursuant to that regulation where there is a significant risk of absconding, those provisions provide for a limitation on the exercise of the fundamental right to liberty enshrined in Article 6 of the Charter.

In that regard, it is clear from Article 52(1) of the Charter that any limitation on the exercise of that right must be provided for by law and must respect the essence of that right and be subject to the principle of proportionality. Furthermore, it is worth noting that in this ruling the European Court of Justice explicitly aligns its interpretation to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), reaffirming that any deprivation of liberty must be lawful not only in the sense that it must have a legal basis in national law, but also that lawfulness concerns the quality of the law and implies that a national law authorizing the deprivation of liberty must be sufficiently accessible, precise and foreseeable in its application in order to avoid risk of arbitrariness (judgment of the European Court of Human Rights of 21 October 2013, Del Río Prada v Spain, paragraph 125).

The Court then concluded by stating that taking account of the purpose of the provisions concerned, and in the light of the high level of protection which follows from their context, only a provision of general application could meet the requirement of clarity, predictability, accessibility and, in particular, protection against arbitrariness. It follows that Article 2(n) and Article 28(2) of the Dublin III Regulation, read in conjunction, must be interpreted as requiring that the objective criteria underlying the reasons for believing that an applicant may abscond must be established in a binding provision of general application. In the absence of such criteria, the detention was unlawful.

Comments

First of all, the Court’s ruling is likely relevant to the interpretation of other EU measures concerning immigration detention. In the Returns Directive, which inter alia concerns the detention of irregular migrants (as distinct from asylum seekers), the ‘risk of absconding’ forms part of the ground for detention (as well as one of the grounds for refusing to allow the irregular migrant a period for voluntary departure); and it is defined exactly the same way as in the Dublin III Regulation. As for asylum seekers who are detained on grounds other than the Dublin process, a ‘risk of absconding’ is an element of one of the grounds for detention under the Reception Conditions Directive, but is not further defined. But a recent Advocate-General’s opinion notes (at para 73) that this clause aims to prevent ‘arbitrary’ detention, which was a key feature of the reasoning in the Al Chodor judgment. This surely points to a consistent interpretation of the two asylum laws. It follows that arguably the Court’s judgment should be relevant not just to Dublin cases but to any immigration detention of non-EU citizens in any Member State bound by the relevant EU legislation.

Secondly, this ruling has reiterated the principle by which although regulations generally have immediate effect in national legal systems without it being necessary for the national authorities to adopt measures of application, some of those provisions may necessitate, for their implementation, the adoption of measures of applicability by the Member States (judgment of 14 April 2011, Vlaamse Dierenartsenvereniging and Janssens, paragraphs 47 and 48).

Most significantly, the Court has reaffirmed the primacy of Human Rights law in EU asylum law implementation, highlighting that the development of the EU asylum law itself depends on its compliance with Human Rights law. In particular, the ECJ’s ruling in this case first of all reflects the ECtHR’s interpretation of the ‘arbitrariness’ of detention, which extends beyond the lack of conformity with national law. Notably, it states that a deprivation of liberty that is lawful under domestic law can still be arbitrary and thus contrary to the general principles, stated explicitly or implied, in the Convention (judgment of the European Court of Human Rights of 9 July 2009, Mooren v. Germany, paragraphs 73-77).

The Court’s ruling also reflects UN human rights norms. The Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 31 related to the nature of the general legal obligation imposed on State parties to the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which all EU Member States are State parties to, which reads that ‘in no case may the restrictions be applied or invoked in a manner that would impair the essence of a Covenant right’ (paragraph 4). Furthermore, the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 35 points out that “arbitrariness is not to be equated with ‘against the law’, but must be interpreted more broadly to include elements of inappropriateness, injustice, lack of predictability and due process of law, as well as elements of reasonableness, necessity and proportionality” (paragraph 12, see also HRC, Van Alphen v. Netherlands, paragraph 5.8).

Finally, the Court’s ruling has confirmed the constitutional value of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which assumes a critical value in this historical period, since, as with any constitutional instrument, the more society as a whole is going through difficult times (such as the perceived ‘migration crisis’ in Europe), the more important it is to reaffirm its principles and values.

Likewise Article 52 of the EU Charter states that in no case may restrictions be applied or invoked in a manner that would impair the essence of a Charter right; in the context of detention, a fortiori it can be also affirmed that essential elements of guarantee for that right, as the requirement of lawfulness and non-arbitrariness for the right of liberty, cannot be disregarded in any circumstance. The Al Chodor ruling puts meat on the bones of that fundamental principle.

EU accession to the Istanbul Convention preventing and combating violence against women. The current state of play.

by Luigi LIMONE (*)

The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as ‘Istanbul Convention’, is the first legally binding treaty in Europe that criminalises different forms of violence against women including physical and psychological violence, sexual violence, sexual harassment and rape, stalking, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced abortion and forced sterilization.

It emphasises and recognises that violence against women is a human rights violation, a form of discrimination against women and a cause and a consequence of inequality between women and men. The Convention requires the public authorities of State parties to adopt a set of comprehensive and multidisciplinary measures in a proactive fashion to prevent violence, protect its victims/survivors and prosecute the perpetrators. The Convention recognises that women experience multiple forms of discrimination and requires the State parties to ensure that tits implementation is made without discrimination on any ground such as sex, gender, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, state of health, disability, marital status, migrant or refugee status or other. It also states that violence against women can never be justified in the name of culture, custom, religion, tradition nor so-called ‘honour’.

It foresees obligations to adopt a specific gender-sensitive approach in migration and asylum matters, and the establishment of a specific monitoring mechanism, (The Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence “GREVIO”), tasked with ensuring effective implementation of its provisions by the Parties.

The Convention contains 81 articles set out in 12 separate chapters and was adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on 7 April 2011, and opened for signature.  on 11 May 2011.  The Convention is open for signature and approval by the (47) member States of the Council of Europe, non-member States which have participated in its elaboration and the European Union, and is open for accession by other non-member States. The Istanbul Convention came into force in 2014. It has been signed by all the EU Member States (but the ratification is still missing for Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czeck Republik, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovakia and UK)

EU Accession : different perspectives of the Commission and of the Council

It should be noted that from a legal point of view the Istanbul Convention, like many other international treaties, is a ‘mixed agreement’ which allows for EU accession in parallel to the Member States’ accession.  While the EU cannot sign up to older international human rights treaties, like the UN Covenants, since they are only open to States, newer treaties expressly provide for the EU to sign up to them. This holds particularly true for the Istanbul Convention, which deals with a number of fields the EU is competent in, including victims’ rights and protection orders, asylum and migration, as well as in judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

As Steve Peers said, the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention can only be welcomed. Although it may not, by itself, prevent any act of violence from being committed, it may accelerate a broader process of ratification and corresponding national law reform on this issue. It may also have the important practical impact of helping victims receive support or protection, particularly in the context of the law on crime victims, immigration or asylum.

More specifically, the EU ratification of the Istanbul Convention could provide encouragement to its Member States, as well as non-EU Member States, to ratify the Convention and, since the CJEU will have jurisdiction to interpret those provisions of the Convention which fall within the scope of EU competence, it could promote a uniform interpretation of those provisions within the EU, thus establishing a truly comprehensive  framework for preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

On 4th March 2016, the European Commission has then issued a proposal for a Council decision on the conclusion, by the European Union, of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

The Commission proposal for the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention has recognised the mixed nature of the Convention and but has explicitly stated that the European Union has exclusive competence to the extent that, according to art.3(2) the Convention may affect common EU rules or alter their scope (recital 6).

However it has to be noted that according to art.73 of the Convention  :“The provisions of this Convention shall not prejudice the provisions of internal law and binding international instruments which are already in force or may come into force, under which more favourable rights are or would be accorded to persons in preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.”  Consequently, contracting Parties to the Convention are allowed to maintain or introduce a higher level of protection for women and girls than the norms set out in the Convention.

This gives some leeway to the Member States which have already signed and in some cases also ratified the Convention. Moreover in cases where relevant Union legislation contains minimum standards as well, it can be questioned if they have lost their possibility of adopting national legislation more favorable to the victims. On September 2016, the Slovak Presidency has then requested the Legal Service to give an opinion on the competences of the Union relating to the Convention, and to identify the parts of the Convention, if any, that fall within the Union’s exclusive competence.

This opinion was issued on 27 October 2016 (doc. 13795/16 -only partially accessible to the public) and as a result of subsequent debates in the Council working Groups it was decided that the Convention should be signed on behalf of the EU only as regards matters falling within the competence of the Union insofar as the Convention may affect common rules or alter their scope.

According to an internal Council source the EU must be held to have exclusive competence for some of the provisions of the Convention set out in Chapters IV (“Protection and Support”), V (‘Substantive Law) and VI (‘Investigation, prosecution, procedural law and protective measures’) but only insofar as they relate to victims covered by Directive 2011/92/EU and Directive 2011/36/EU. (Moreover in the case of the Victim Directive it deals with minimum EU rules so that some competence remain at MS level).

On the contrary it seems indisputable that the Union has acquired exclusive competence in relation to two of the three provisions of Chapter VII (‘Migration and Asylum’).  In relation to Article 60(1) and (2) of the Convention, the current EU rules of the “Qualification Directive” does not appear to be much leeway for Member States to exceed the protection level set out in Union rules. The same applies to Article 60(3) of the Convention, in the light of the detailed provisions of the same Qualification Directive, the “Procedures Directive” and the “Reception conditions Directive”, even if they set, technically speaking, Member States to maintain or introduce more favourable protection.  As for Article 61 of the Convention, on non-refoulement, this appears to set “minimum” norms, but only in theory.  The same must be held for the corresponding provisions of EU provisions, whether primary (Article 78(1) TFEU), or secondary law.

Therefore, to protect the MS competence the Council has decided to change the legal basis and the draft decision on the signing on behalf of the European Union of the Istanbul Convention was divided into two decisions: one with regard to matters related to judicial cooperation in criminal matters and the second with regard to asylum and non-refoulement.

Both Council and Commission have recognised that the respective competences of the European Union and the Member States are inter-linked and have considered that it is appropriate to establish arrangements between the Commission and the Member States for the monitoring mechanism provided by the Convention, the so-called Group of experts on action against violence against women and domestic violence (GREVIO).

…in the meantime the European Parliament ..

At the European Parliament level, on several occasions MEPs have recalled that the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention would guarantee a coherent European legal framework to prevent and combat violence against women and gender-based violence and to protect the victims of violence, provide greater coherence and efficiency in EU internal and external policies and ensure better monitoring, interpretation and implementation of EU laws, programs and funds relevant to the Convention, as well as more adequate and better collection of comparable desegregated data on violence against women and gender-based violence at EU.

According to the MEPs the EU ratification would also reinforce the EU accountability at international level and, last but not least, it would apply renewed political pressure on Member States to ratify this instrument (note that so far all EU Member States have signed the Istanbul Convention, but only fourteen of them have ratified it).

The European Parliament has also recalled that the Commission is bound by Article 2 TEU and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights to guarantee, promote and take action in favour of gender equality. It has, therefore, welcomed the Commission proposal to sign and conclude the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention.

In this respect, a draft interim report between the LIBE and FEMM Committees is being drafted by two rapporteurs, Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (EPP – Sweden) and Christine Revault D’Allonnes Bonnefoy (S&D – France). A first LIBE/FEMM joint hearing on the issue took place on 29 November 2016. It was followed by a second joint hearing, which was held on 27 March 2017, whose aim was to highlight the importance as well as the necessity for the EU to access the Istanbul convention as a unique body.

During the latter hearing, some MEPs reiterated the importance of the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention, which could represent the basis for the introduction of a holistic approach addressing the issue of violence against women and girls and gender-based violence from a wide range of perspectives, such as prevention, the fight against discrimination, criminal law measures to combat impunity, victim protection and support, the protection of children, the protection of women asylum seekers and refugees and better data collection.

According to Malin Björk  (GUE/NGL – Sweden), the EU accession to the Istanbul convention would represent a very important step forward and it would allow to see violence against women as a political issue. For her, the EU ratification would be an opportunity to make people understand that such an issue is part of gender politics and it has to be recognised as such.

For Iratxe García Pérez (S&D – Spain), it would be extremely important to use all the best practices provided by some EU countries, such as Spain and Sweden, in order to define a common European framework for an active policy to combat violence against women. In her opinion, the European society is still unequal and gender-based violence derives from such an unbalance of power. The EU accession to the Istanbul Convention would be therefore crucial in order to set the basis for a common European strategy aiming to eliminate gender unbalances across Europe.

The key elements of the interim report were outlined during a third joint hearing which took place on 11 April 2017. On that occasion, the two rapporteurs stressed the needs for a joint effort between the European Parliament and the European Commission, in order to set up a holistic and comprehensive approach towards violence against women. Both the rapporteurs  expressed their strong support for the introduction of an EU directive and recalled that violence against women should not be considered as a national issue but as a European issue, since it affects the whole European society.

Despite the progress made at the European Parliament level, some MEPs deplored the fact that negotiations in the Council were not proceeding at the same speed.

It is not clear if the LIBE members were aware of the debates on the Council side or if they have been “timely and fully informed” of the new approach emerging on the Council side as it should had be the case according to art. 218 of the TFUE. Nor it is clear if the Commission has taken duly informed the LIBE Members in compliance with the EP-Commission Framework agreement.

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