The EU and the Spanish Constitutional Crisis

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS 

by Cecilia Rizcallah, (Research Fellow at the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research affiliated both to Université Saint-Louis Bruxelles and Université libre de Bruxelles)

Background

Spain is facing, since more than a month now, a constitutional crisis because of pro-independence claims in Catalonia. These claims resulted in the holding of an independence referendum on 1 October 2017, organized by the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia’s authorities, led by its President Mr. Carles Puigdemont. According to Barcelona, 90% of the participants voted in favor of Catalonia’s independency on a turnout of 43%.

Several weeks before the holding of the referendum, the Spanish Constitutional Court held that such plebiscite was contrary to the Spanish Constitution, and it was therefore declared void by the same Court. The Spanish central Government moreover firmly condemned this act and suspended Catalonia’s autonomy, on the basis of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution which allows the central Government to adopt “the necessary measures to compel regional authorities to obey the law” and, thereby, to intervene in the running of Catalonia.

EU’s Incompetency in Member States’ Internal Constitutional Affairs

During these events, a contributor to the New York Times wondered “Where is the European Union?”. The Guardian stated “As Catalonia crisis escalates, EU is nowhere to be seen”. EU authorities’ restraint can yet easily be explained, at least, from a legal point of view. Indeed, the European Union has in principle neither the competence, nor the legitimacy, to intervene in its Member States’ internal constitutional affairs. Article 4.2 TEU incidentally underlines that the EU shall respect Member States’ “national identities, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government” and that it “shall respect their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order and safeguarding national security. In particular, national security remains the sole responsibility of each Member State”. The President of the Commission, J.-C. Junker stated that it was “an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order of Spain” but however noted that in case of separation of Catalonia from Spain, the region would consequently “find itself outside of the European Union”.

Puigdemont’s  Departure for Brussels

Theoretically, the EU has thus no legal standing to intervene in the Spanish constitutional crisis. Recent events have, however, brought the EU incidentally on stage.

Mr. Puigdemont, the deposed leader of Catalan authorities, left Barcelona for Brussels several days ago, where he declared he was not intended to seek asylum and that he would return in Spain if judicial authorities so request, provided he was guaranteed conditions of a fair judicial process. In the meanwhile, the State prosecutor decided to start proceedings against Mr. Puigdemont and other officials of the ousted Catalan government for rebellion, sedition and embezzlement and demanded to the judge in charge of the processing charges to issue a European arrest warrant (hereafter EAW) for Mr. Puigdemont and four other members of his former cabinet, after they failed to appear at the High Court hearing last Thursday.  The EAW was issued by the Spanish judge last week. EU law has thus been relied upon by Spanish authorities to respond to its internal crisis, because of the departure of several Catalan officials to Brussels, which constituted, at the outset at least, nothing more than a lawful exercise of their free movement rights within the Schengen area.

Mr. Puidgemont and the other people subject to a EAW presented themselves to Belgian authorities, which decided to release them upon several conditions including the prohibition to leave the Belgian territory. A Belgian Criminal Chamber has as of now two weeks to decide if they should be surrendered to Spain or not.

The Quasi-automaticity of the European Arrest Warrant System

According to Puidgemont’s Belgian lawyer, the former Catalan leader will agree to return in Spain provided that he will be guaranteed respect of his fundamental rights, including the right to an impartial and independent trial. He moreover underlined that Puidgemont will submit itself to Belgian judicial authorities which will have to assess whether or not these conditions are met.

The system of the EAW, however, entails a quasi-automaticity of the execution by requested authorities of any Member State. Indeed, because it relies upon the principle of mutual trust between Member States, requested authorities may not, save in exceptional circumstances, control the respect by the requesting State of fundamental values of the EU, including democracy and human rights. The Council Framework Decision 2002/584 of 13 June 2002, which establishes the EAW includes a limitative list of mandatory and optional grounds for refusal which does not include a general ground for refusal based on human rights protection (Articles 3 and 4). Indeed, only specific violations or risk of violations of fundamental freedoms justify the refusal to surrender, according to the Framework Decision. As far as the right to a fair trial is concerned, the Framework Decision does not include possibilities to rebut the presumption of the existence of fair proceedings in other Member States except when the EAW results from an in abstentia decision and only under certain conditions (Article 4a).

A strong presumption of respect of EU values underlies EU criminal cooperation and the ECJ has, as of now, accepted its rebuttal on grounds of human right not included in the main text of the Framework Decision only where a serious and genuine risk of inhuman and degrading treatment existed for the convicted person in case of surrender (see the Aranyosi case, discussed here). In that respect, the lawyer of the other Catalan ministers who are already in jail has lodged a complaint for mistreatment of them, but more elements will be required to refuse the execution on the EAW on this basis.

Indeed, according to the Court of Justice, “the executing judicial authority must, initially, rely on information that is objective, reliable, specific and properly updated on the detention conditions prevailing in the issuing Member State and that demonstrates that there are deficiencies, which may be systemic or generalised, or which may affect certain groups of people, or which may affect certain places of detention”. Moreover, the domestic judge must also “make a further assessment, specific and precise, of whether there are substantial grounds to believe that the individual concerned will be exposed to that risk because of the conditions for his detention envisaged in the issuing Member State” before refusing the execution of the EAW (Aranyosi, paras 89 and 92).

Furthermore, the possibility to refuse to surrender persons convicted for political offences – which is traditionally seen as being part of the international system of protection of refugees – has been removed from the Convention on Extradition between Member States of the European Union concluded in 1996 – which is the ancestor of the current EAW system – precisely because of Member States’ duty to trust their peers’ judicial system. Interestingly, the removal of this ground for refusal had been required by Spain when it faced difficulties to obtain the extradition of Basque independentists who were seeking for protection in Belgium. The Spanish government pleaded that the ground for refusal for political infractions constituted a hurdle to criminal cooperation within the EU which was at odds with the trust that Member States should express to each other (see E. Bribosia and A. Weyembergh, “Extradition et asile: vers un espace judiciaire européen?”, R.B.D.I., 1997, pp. 69 to 98).

In the current state of EU law, no option for refusal of execution of the EAW concerning Mr. Puidgemont seems thus to exist. It is noteworthy, however, that the EAW system may, as a whole, be suspended, when the procedure provided for by Article 7 TEU is initiated if there is a (clear risk of) violation of the values referred to in Article 2 TEU on which the Union is founded, including human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Although some people have called for the initiation of this mechanism, the reliance on Article 7 is very unlikely to happen politically: it needs at least a majority of four fifths at the Council just to issue a warning, and the substantive conditions of EU values’ violations are very high.

Nonetheless, Belgium has included in its transposing legislation (Federal Law of 19 December 2003 related to the EAW) an obligatory ground of refusal – whose validity regarding EU law can seriously be put into question –  if there are valid grounds for believing that its execution would have the effect of infringing the funda­mental rights of the person concerned, as enshrined by Article 6(2) of the TEU (Art. 4, 5°). Triggering this exception will however result, in my view, in a violation of EU law by the Belgian judge since the ECJ has several times ruled that the grounds for refusal included in the Framework Decision were exhaustive and that a Member State could not rely upon its national human rights protection to refuse the execution of a EAW which respects the conditions laid down in the Framework Decision (Melloni).  Another option for the Belgian judge will be to make a reference to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling in order to ask whether, in the case at hand, the presumption of conformity with EU fundamental rights in Spain may be put aside because of the specific situation of Mr. Puidgemont.

The Quasi-Exclusion of the Asylum Right for EU Citizens

Besides asking for the refusal of his surrender to Spanish authorities, Mr. Puidgmont could – at least theoretically – seek asylum in Belgium on the basis of the Refugee Convention of 1951, which defines as refugees people with a well-founded fear of persecution for (among other things) their political opinion (Article 1.A.2).

However, Spain also requested – besides the removal of the ground for refusal to surrender a person based on the political nature of the alleged crime in the European Extradition Convention of 1996 – the enactment of Protocol No 24, on asylum for nationals of Member States of the European Union, annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam signed in 1997. This Protocol practically removes the right of EU citizens to seek asylum in other countries of the Union.

Founding itself on the purported trustful character of Member States’ political and judicial systems and the (presumed) high level of protection of fundamental rights in the EU, the Protocol states that all Member States “shall be regarded as constituting safe countries of origin in respect of each other for all legal and practical purposes in relation to asylum matters” (Art. 1). Any application for asylum made by an EU citizen in another Member State shall therefore be declared inadmissible, except if the Member State of which the applicant is a national has decided to suspend temporarily the application of the European Convention on Human Rights in time of emergency (Article 15 of the ECHR; note that it’s not possible to suspend all provisions of the ECHR on this basis) or if this Member State has been subject to a decision based on Art. 7.1. or 7.2. TEU establishing the risk or the existence of a serious and persistent breach by the Member State of EU values referred to in Art. 2 TEU.

A Member State may also decide, unilaterally, to take an asylum demand into consideration at the double condition that it immediately informs the Council and that that the application shall be dealt with on the basis of the presumption that it is manifestly unfounded.  This last derogation has been invoked by Belgium which has adopted a declaration stating that it would proceed to an individual examination of each asylum demand of a EU citizen lodged with it. To comply with EU law, it must however consider each application manifestly unfounded rendering the burden of the proof very heavy for the EU citizen asylum seeker.  Belgian alien’s law provides for an accelerated procedure for asylum when the individual comes from an EU country (Article 57/6 2 of the Belgian Aliens Act) but statistics nevertheless show that about twenty asylum demands from EU citizens where declared founded in 2013 and 2014 by Belgian authorities.

The EU Brought on Stage…  

In both cases, the refusal to execute the EAW or the granting of an asylum right to Mr. Puidgemont would result from the consideration that the Spanish judiciary does not present the basic and essential qualities of independence and impartiality to adjudicate the case related to Catalan independence activists. This observation would likely result in a major diplomatic dispute between the two countries and, more widely, in the EU. Indeed, the consideration made by Belgium and/or the ECJ that Spain would not respect fundamental values of the EU in treating the case of Catalonia would jeopardize the essential principle of mutual trust between Member States, which is relied upon in criminal, asylum but also in civil judicial cooperation. The Spanish constitutional crisis could thereby potentially call into question the whole system of cooperation in the European Area of Freedom Security and Justice.

Refuge ou asile ? La situation de Carles Pbyuigdemont en Belgique au regard du droit de l’Union européenne

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON THE CDRE SITE

by Henri Labayle, CDRE et Bruno Nascimbene, Université de Milan

Quoique largement circonscrite à la Belgique, l’agitation médiatique provoquée par l’arrivée à Bruxelles de Carles Puigdemont et de certains de ses proches soulève d’intéressants points de droit quant à leur situation sur le territoire d’un autre Etat membre de l’Union. Attisée par les déclarations imprudentes d’un secrétaire d’Etat belge à l’Asile et à la Migration, Theo Francken, cette présence a réveillé d’anciennes querelles entre les deux royaumes concernés tenant tout à la fois à la possibilité pour la Belgique d’accorder l’asile à l’intéressé (1) et, à défaut, de constituer un refuge face aux éventuelles poursuites intentées à son égard par les juridictions espagnoles (2).

1. La recherche d’une terre d’asile

Le suspense n’a guère duré. Après avoir géré son départ de Catalogne dans le plus grand des secrets, dans une posture digne de l’homme du 18 juin 1940 dont il porte le prénom, le président déchu du gouvernement catalan y a mis fin en déclarant qu’il n’était « pas venu ici pour demander l’asile politique ». Pourtant, son entourage comme les déclarations du secrétaire d’Etat Theo Francken, nationaliste flamand, membre du parti indépendantiste ultra-conservateur N-VA, avaient donné corps à la polémique.

a. Le choix de son avocat, d’abord, n’a rien eu d’innocent. Tout en déclarant que son client n’était pas en Belgique pour demander l’asile, ce dernier n’en a pas moins jugé utile de préciser soigneusement avoir « une expérience de plus de 30 ans avec l’extradition et l’asile politique de basques espagnols et c’est probablement sur la base de cette expérience qu’il a fait appel à moi ». Les agences de presse se sont du reste empressées de souligner qu’il avait en son temps assuré la défense du couple Luis Moreno et Raquel Garcia, réclamés en vain à la Belgique par l’Espagne en raison de leur soutien à l’organisation terroriste ETA.

Source de vives tensions entre l’Espagne et la Belgique en raison du refus de cette dernière de les extrader puis de les remettre à Madrid autant qu’à propos du débat sur leur éventuel statut de réfugié politique, le cas de ces derniers éclaire l’insistance espagnole à inscrire en 1997 un protocole à ce sujet, le fameux protocole « Aznar » joint au traité d’Amsterdam. A tout le moins donc, la symbolique du recours à un avocat ainsi spécialisé n’est pas neutre, même s’il est permis de douter de l’adresse d’un tel amalgame pour une cause se présentant comme victime de la violence de l’Etat et d’un déni de démocratie.

Dans le même temps, exprimant sans détours sa sympathie à la cause nationaliste, le secrétaire d’Etat Theo Francken n’a pas manié la langue de bois. D’abord, à travers un constat sur la situation espagnole quelque peu téméraire : « la situation en Catalogne est en train de dégénérer. On peut supposer, de manière réaliste qu’un certain nombre de Catalans vont demander l’asile en Belgique. Et ils le peuvent. La loi est là. Il pourront demander une protection et introduire une demande d’asile et on y répondra convenablement ». Ensuite en fournissant une explication à son attitude au demeurant tout aussi douteuse : « en regardant la répression de Madrid et les peines de prison envisagées, la question peut se poser de savoir s’il a encore une chance d’un jugement équitable».

La volée de critiques faisant suite à cette provocation, y compris le désaveu a minima d’un premier ministre belge passablement gêné, oblige alors à rappeler les termes du débat juridique.

b. Sur l’insistance du premier ministre espagnol de l’époque, Jose Maria Aznar, le protocole n° 24 additionnel au traité d’Amsterdam s’efforce de réduire le droit d’asile à un droit seulement offert aux ressortissants tiers. En effet, « vu le niveau de protection des droits fondamentaux et des libertés fondamentales dans les États membres de l’Union européenne, ceux-ci sont considérés comme constituant des pays d’origine sûrs les uns vis-à-vis des autres pour toutes les questions juridiques et pratiques liées aux affaires d’asile». Le protocole n° 24 fut accompagné à l’époque de la déclaration n° 48 de la Conférence, ne préjugeant pas du droit de chaque Etat membre de prendre les mesures d’organisation nécessaires au respect de la Convention de Genève. Pour sa part, la Belgique déclara alors que, tout en approuvant le protocole n° 24, « conformément à ses obligations au titre de la convention de Genève de 1951 et du protocole de New York de 1967, elle effectuera, conformément à la disposition énoncée à l’article unique, point d), de ce protocole, un examen individuel de toute demande d’asile présentée par un ressortissant d’un autre Etat membre» (déclaration n° 5).

Le HCR n’avait pas manqué alors d’émettre des critiques fermes et fondées sur la conventionnalité d’une telle option, hostile à l’idée simpliste selon laquelle l’appartenance à l’UE constituerait par principe un critère objectif et légitime de distinction du point de vue de la protection entre Etats membres de l’Union et Etats tiers (UNHCR, « Position on the proposal of the European Council concerning the treatment of asylum applications from citizens of European Union Member States », annexe à la lettre du Directeur de la Division de la protection of internationale à M. Patijn, Ministre des Affaires étrangères des Pays Bas, 3 février 1997 ; voir également UNHCR Press release 20 juin 1997). Vingt ans après, la situation des droits fondamentaux dans certains Etats membres de l’Union conforte cette critique.

Conscients de ces difficultés, les Etats membres ont alors opté pour une solution de contournement, se gardant de toute interdiction frontale du droit d’asile à propos de leurs ressortissants et préférant en retenir une approche extrêmement restrictive. Il s’agit, comme l’indique le protocole, « d’empêcher que l’asile en tant qu’institution soit utilisé à des fins autres que celles auxquelles il est destiné ».

Le traité de Lisbonne n’a modifié ce dispositif qu’à la marge, à deux précisions près. La première tient dans la disparition des déclarations formulées à Amsterdam et la seconde voit l’invocation des « valeurs » de l’Union justifier désormais l’existence du protocole puisque, par hypothèse, les Etats membres les respectent pour pénétrer et demeurer dans l’Union. Ils ne peuvent donc être sources de persécutions, sauf preuve du contraire.

c. La pratique de l’asile entre Etats membres de l’Union est donc régie aujourd’hui par le Protocole n° 24 révisé à Lisbonne, lequel constitue la lex specialis du « droit d’asile pour les ressortissants des Etats membres de l’Union européenne ». Il n’est pas indifférent de rappeler que l’ensemble du droit primaire et dérivé de l’Union de l’asile se conforme à cette logique. Le champ d’application personnel du droit d’asile selon la directive « Qualification » ne concerne que les ressortissants de pays tiers, en application de l’article 78 TFUE qui en fait un droit de ces ressortissants et s’impose à l’article 18 de la Charte dont les « explications » mentionnent spécifiquement le Protocole.

Ce dernier, outre les hypothèses qui visent une violation établie des valeurs de l’Union ou une dérogation en vertu de l’article 15 de la Convention EDH, régit l’éventuel octroi d’une protection à un citoyen de l’Union dans son article unique point d) : « si un État membre devait en décider ainsi unilatéralement en ce qui concerne la demande d’un ressortissant d’un autre État membre; dans ce cas, le Conseil est immédiatement informé; la demande est traitée sur la base de la présomption qu’elle est manifestement non fondée sans que, quel que soit le cas, le pouvoir de décision de l’État membre ne soit affecté d’aucune manière ».

Le plus grand flou règne ensuite en la matière quant à la pratique dégagée par les Etats à ce propos. On sait, par exemple qu’en France le Conseil d’Etat a dégagé une interprétation littérale du protocole Aznar à propos de citoyens roumains tout en n’écartant pas l’hypothèse d’un examen (CE, 30 décembre 2009, OFPRA c/ Cosmin, req. 305226, note Aubin, AJDA 2010). De même, l’administration française s’est-elle empressée de souligner par voie de circulaire, à l’occasion de l’adhésion de la Croatie en 2013, que le retrait de ce nouvel Etat membre de la liste des pays tiers d’origine sûrs n’entraînait aucun changement sur le plan de l’admission provisoire au titre de l’asile et du jeu de la procédure d’examen prioritaire, dans la logique du protocole Aznar.

Les choses sont beaucoup plus incertaines concernant l’Union elle-même et les doutes que l’on peut légitimement éprouver quant à la situation des droits fondamentaux dans l’Union en général comme en particulier invitent à la réserve.

En 2015, la Commission canadienne de l’immigration et du statut de réfugié fait ainsi état de la grande diversité des pratiques nationales au sein de l’Union à l’égard de ce protocole, principalement en raison des divergences portant sur la présence des Etats membres de l’Union sur les listes nationales de pays d’origine « sûrs ». Seuls la Belgique et les Pays Bas auraient, à ce jour, rendu des décisions positives de protection.

Pour ce qui est plus précisément de la Belgique, susceptible d’accueillir M. Puigdemont, si elle semble ne pas avoir renouvelé à Lisbonne sa déclaration d’Amsterdam, elle conserve néanmoins la possibilité de procéder à une évaluation des situations individuelles. Quasiment exclusivement saisie par des nouveaux Etats membres, le plus souvent à propos de la question des Roms, elle fait un usage très parcimonieux de cette possibilité puisque près d’un millier de demandes auraient été déposées depuis 2011 pour moins de quinze reconnaissances au total.

La déclaration de la Belgique, qui a certainement une valeur politique, conserve sa valeur juridique, même si elle n’a pas été répétée, comme elle aurait dû être révoquée. En tout état de cause, les Etats membres conservent le droit souverain d’accorder l’asile sur la base de leur droit interne. Ainsi, dans la Constitution d’un État membre comme l’Italie, il existe une disposition fondamentale, à l’instar du troisième paragraphe de l’article 10, qui prévoit qu’un étranger qui est effectivement empêché d’exercer ses libertés démocratiques garanties de la Constitution italienne, a le droit à l’asile sur le territoire de la République, dans les conditions prévues par la loi. Bien que l’Italie n’ait fait aucune déclaration, il n’y a aucun doute que l’Etat garde sa souveraineté quant à la concession de l’asile, aussi appelé asile constitutionnel et qui fait abstraction des obligations internationales ou de l’Union. De même, en droit français, le préambule de la Constitution de 1946 prévoit-il que« tout homme persécuté en raison de son action en faveur de la liberté a droit d’asile sur les territoires de la République ». Ces formes d’asile particulier n’ont pas été prises en considération par M. Puigdemont , la Belgique lui paraissant un Etat plus sûr ou protecteur.

En Italie, d’un autre côté, dans la jurisprudence administrative, il s’est posé également la question de ne pas expulser vers la Grèce mais aussi vers la Bulgarie, considérés comme des pays non sûrs, malgré leur statut d’Etats membres de l’Union. Les juges administratifs ont ainsi démontré, s’il y en avait besoin, que la confiance mutuelle entre pays membres, dans la réalité et pratique courante, est souvent théorique…

C’est dans ce contexte peu encourageant que l’accueil de l’ex-président catalan peut être évalué.

2. La recherche d’une terre de refuge    

Deux hypothèses se présentent alors : celle d’un accueil en bonne et due forme au plan de l’asile et celle d’une réponse à un éventuel mandat d’arrêt européen. Les dénégations de M. Puigdemont quant à son éventuelle demande de protection ne sont pas aussi catégoriques qu’il y paraît au premier abord. Il a, en effet, ouvertement évoqué des « menaces » et un « besoin de sécurité » que les autorités espagnoles ne seraient plus à même de lui assurer soit en raison de la nature des poursuites exercées à son encontre soit en ne le protégeant pas efficacement des menaces pesant sur sa personne. On retrouve là derrière ces arguments des questions très classiques du droit de l’asile dont les réponses ne sont pas sans intérêt du point de vue de la recherche d’un refuge devant le risque pénal.

a. Même s’il s’avère que la Belgique n’a pas renouvelé sa déclaration d’Amsterdam, elle se trouve placée comme tout Etat membre de l’Union devant à une double contrainte posée par le Protocole n° 24. La première est de nature procédurale et elle consiste à « informer le Conseil » de sa volonté. Nul doute qu’ici surgiront des tensions diplomatiques avec d’autres Etats membres, au premier rang desquels l’Espagne se situera, et qu’elles mettront également à rude épreuve la coalition gouvernementale gouvernant la Belgique. A en rester sur le terrain politique, les déclarations des partis nationalistes flamands sur la nécessité de soutenir « ses amis » le laissent présager. A venir sur le terrain juridique, le soulagement politique pourrait alors naître de l’impossibilité de répondre favorablement à une quelconque demande, au vu de la réalité du droit de l’Union.

La seconde contrainte est matérielle et elle consiste à renverser la présomption posée par le protocole Aznar. Le point d) de son article unique spécifie bien que « la demande est traitée sur la base de la présomption qu’elle est manifestement non fondée ». Il convient donc pour les autorités nationales saisies de renverser cette présomption pour se placer en conformité avec le droit de l’Union.

On se trouve ici dans un schéma tout à fait comparable à celui que la Cour a dégagé avec force dans l’avis 2/13relatif à l’adhésion à la Convention EDH lorsqu’elle met en relief cette « prémisse fondamentale selon laquelle chaque État membre partage avec tous les autres Etats membres, et reconnaît que ceux-ci partagent avec lui, une série de valeurs communes sur lesquelles l’Union est fondée, comme il est précisé à l’article 2 TUE. Cette prémisse implique et justifie l’existence de la confiance mutuelle entre les Etats membres dans la reconnaissance de ces valeurs et, donc, dans le respect du droit de l’Union qui les met en œuvre » (point 168). « Fondamentale » car elle « permet la création et le maintien d’un espace sans frontières intérieures. Or, ce principe impose, notamment en ce qui concerne l’espace de liberté, de sécurité et de justice, à chacun de ces Etats de considérer … que tous les autres Etats membres respectent le droit de l’Union et, tout particulièrement, les droits fondamentaux reconnus par ce droit » (point 191).

S’atteler au défi de prouver que le Royaume d’Espagne ne respecte pas les valeurs de l’Union, au point de justifier d’accorder protection à l’un de ses citoyens au prétexte que son pays lui demande des comptes de sa violation d’une légalité établie par la juridiction constitutionnelle de ce pays, ne sera donc pas aisé. Une chose est en effet de se réclamer de la démocratie et de l’exercice des droits qui y sont attachés et une autre est de faire la preuve que cet exercice est légal. Dénoncer une éventuelle « politisation de la justice espagnole et son absence d’impartialité » comme « l’injustice du gouvernement espagnol » et son « désir de vengeance » ne se paie pas seulement de mots.

Or, rien dans l’état du droit positif n’accrédite une accusation d’une telle gravité, laquelle n’a été portée ni devant les juridictions suprêmes européennes ni au sein de leurs organes internes. Il sera donc difficile aux autorités d’un autre Etat membre de la reprendre à leur compte en allant jusqu’au point de renverser la présomption établie par le protocole et de la confiance mutuelle entre Etats membres. Bien au contraire, l’unanimité des déclarations des représentants des autres Etats membres comme des institutions de l’Union s’est attachée depuis le début de la crise à souligner la nécessité de respecter le cadre légal national ainsi contesté.

b. C’est donc sur le terrain pénal que la suite de la partie se jouera. Avec la convocation à Madrid de l’ex-président et de treize de ses ministres par une juge d’instruction de l’Audience nationale, saisie par le parquet espagnol qui a requis des poursuites notamment pour « rébellion et sédition », chefs passibles respectivement d’un maximum de 30 et 15 ans de prison. Mettre en cause la partialité de la juridiction espagnole et son mode de fonctionnement nécessitera des arguments forts qu’aucune juridiction européenne n’a jusqu’alors établi, même en des cas autrement dramatiques.

Car pour le reste, et sous couvert de l’intitulé exact de l’émission inévitable du mandat d’arrêt européen qui suivra le refus annoncé de déférer à cette convocation judiciaire, le scénario est écrit. La décision-cadre 2002/584 établissant le mandat d’arrêt européen est inflexible : « rien dans la présente décision-cadre ne peut être interprété comme une interdiction de refuser la remise d’une personne qui fait l’objet d’un mandat d’arrêt européen s’il y a des raisons de croire, sur la base d’éléments objectifs, que ledit mandat a été émis dans le but de poursuivre ou de punir une personne en raison de son sexe, de sa race, de sa religion, de son origine ethnique, de sa nationalité, de sa langue, de ses opinions politiques ou de son orientation sexuelle, ou qu’il peut être porté atteinte à la situation de cette personne pour l’une de ces raisons ». Malgré le libellé peu clair du considérant n° 12 de la décision-cadre 2002/584, celui-ci invoque l’hypothèse d’un refus d’exécution d’un mandat d’arrêt européen s’il y a des raisons de présumer que la personne est persécutée pour ses opinions politiques. On remarquera d’une part qu’il s’agit d’une disposition non contraignante et d’autre part que la partie contraignante de la décision-cadre ne formule aucun motif de cette nature empêchant la coopération et donc l’exécution du mandat dans ces cas, hors les hypothèses des articles 3 et 4. Son article premier se borne à rappeler que « la présente décision-cadre ne saurait avoir pour effet de modifier l’obligation de respecter les droits fondamentaux et les principes juridiques fondamentaux tels qu’ils sont consacrés par l’article 6 du traité sur l’Union européenne ».

Et il est vrai à cet égard que la jurisprudence de la Cour de justice, évoquée à plusieurs reprises dans ces colonnes, confirme la rigueur de la force obligatoire de l’exécution d’un mandat. Ceci vaut sans exception, dans le sens où la Cour a considéré les raisons/motifs de refus prévues par la décision-cadre comme exhaustives (voir spécialement affaire C‑192/12 PPU West, pt. 55; affaire C‑399/11 Melloni, pt. 38). A la lumière de la jurisprudence dans les affaires Aranyosi et Caldararu, une certaine atténuation du principe établi apparait admissible si l’exécution implique une violation grave d’un droit fondamental bénéficiant d’une protection absolue, tel que la dignité de la personne humaine. Il semble difficile d’imaginer, au cas où la question serait adressée à la Cour de justice, que celle-ci puisse parvenir à intégrer la législation de l’UE en identifiant une raison supplémentaire pour cette hypothèse, la logique de l’avis 2/13 devrait alors être renversée et, en fait, la présomption même de non-octroi de l’asile.

En revanche, et pour ce que l’on en sait à travers la presse, les infractions pour lesquelles un mandat d’arrêt européen pourrait être émis (rébellion et sédition ?) contre M. Puigdemont ne semblent pas figurer sur la liste positive visée à l’art. 2, par. 2 de la décision cadre qui permet de procéder à une remise même en l’absence de double incrimination. Par conséquent, l’État d’exécution que serait la Belgique pourrait soumettre la remise à la vérification que les infractions couvertes par le mandat d’arrêt européen émis par l’Espagne soient également des infractions pénales en droit belge (art. 2, par. 4, et art. 4, par. 1, de la décision cadre).

Le scénario judiciaire risque donc, par l’automaticité de sa réponse, d’écarter toute hypothèse de refuge, de négociation ou autres compromis que le droit de l’extradition, hier, permettait encore. Là encore, prendre la décision de déférer à la demande de remise impliquera de procéder sous le feu des caméras à une arrestation pour y parvenir … Lourde responsabilité à prendre dans une coalition gouvernementale belge fragilisée sur la question nationaliste…

Sauf à croire qu’il n’y a finalement là que faux semblant, épisode nouveau d’une guerre de communication accréditée par la proximité de la consultation électorale en Catalogne. Jouer la carte de « l’exil » comme aux heures les plus noires, victimiser l’acteur principal de la crise, dénoncer la poursuite étatique en la discréditant dessinent les ressorts à peine dissimulés d’une stratégie dont nul ne sait si elle sera payante, pariant qu’elle parviendra à convaincre les hésitants. Donner en spectacle l’arrestation et l’emprisonnement ou même leurs simples éventualités permettra de prendre ainsi chacun à témoin de la justesse de la cause défendue. La brièveté des délais d’exécution du mandat d’arrêt européen, deux mois en vertu de l’article 17, pourrait alors pousser les uns ou les autres à une véritable course de lenteur pour l’éviter avant des élections cruciales …

Un seul enseignement mérite alors d’en être tiré, à ce stade de la crise. Son théâtre n’est plus national mais il est européen, faisant émerger un paradoxe imprévu mais dont il faudra tirer les leçons. S’il est banal chez les souverainistes de prétendre que l’Union a pu affaiblir ses Etats membres, la crise catalane et son déroulement révèlent très exactement l’inverse. D’abord car l’attrait européen et le risque de devoir s’en priver, comme nous l’avons démontré, constitue une puissante barrière défensive pour le maintien au sein de l’Etat que l’on est tenté de quitter. Ensuite car l’Union, ses dirigeants et son droit, ainsi pris à témoin par le choix des nationalistes d’européaniser la crise pour espérer la dénouer, s’avèrent être les premiers défenseurs de l’intégrité territoriale d’Etats membres. Ceux-ci se découvrent là une alliée inattendue. Ont-ils aussi compris qu’ils partagent désormais avec elle le choix de la décision finale sans en demeurer les seuls maîtres ?

Asylum Legislative Package: State of Play (according to the Council of the European Union)

Council Presidency Progress report  Reform of the Common European Asylum System and Resettlement  (Source : Council Document n. 12802/17)

NOTA BENE : Emphasis and links to the Procedural files on the EP Legislative Observatory have been added)

I INTRODUCTION

On 4 May and 13 July 2016, the Commission submitted seven legislative proposals aimed at reforming the Common European Asylum System. This package included the recast of the Dublin Regulation and of the Eurodac Regulation, a proposal for a Regulation on the establishment of the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), a proposal for a Regulation establishing a common procedure in the EU, a proposal for a Qualification Regulation, the recast of the Reception Conditions Directive and a proposal for a Regulation establishing a Union Resettlement Framework.

The Estonian Presidency has taken forward the examination of the above-mentioned proposals, initiated by the Netherlands Presidency and continued by the Slovak and Maltese Presidencies. The current progress report builds on the previous report presented to the Council on 9 June, as set out in document 9781/17.

II DUBLIN REGULATION (COD 2016/0133)

Pursuant to the repeated requests by the European Council on making progress on the EU’s asylum policy and building on the progress made under the Maltese Presidency, the Estonian Presidency has taken forward the discussions with a view to reaching a compromise on the effective application of the principles of solidarity and responsibility. This work has been based on the common understanding of the need to strike the right balance between the principles of responsibility and solidarity and the need to ensure resilience to future crises, as well as on the broad support for a comprehensive approach of which the reform of CEAS is only one aspect.

Building on the elements, which were identified under the Maltese Presidency as the ones, which could attract a good measure of agreement and on those that needed further work, the current Presidency has focused on a number of key specific issues to consolidate the required support.

In the bilateral contacts with delegations, the Presidency has aimed at consolidating the understanding of all the generally stable points and finding as much common ground as possible on issues where the compromise has so far not proved possible.

Based on these contacts, the issue will be further discussed at political level in due course in order to find the right balance that would allow for continuation of the examination of the Commission proposal by the Council preparatory bodies. It has to be stressed that all the aspects of the current reform are interlinked and compromise will be required on all sides in order to establish the required support leading to the reform of the current CEAS.

III.       RECEPTION CONDITIONS DIRECTIVE (COD 2016/0222)

The proposal on the recast of the Reception Conditions Directive was initially examined by the Asylum Working Party and is currently being pursued by the JHA Counsellors. Progress was made on many aspects of the proposal. However, some issues still need to be tackled, in particular the provisions related to the measures aimed at preventing secondary movements, including the assignment of residence, detention and the reduction and withdrawal of material reception conditions, as well as the provisions on the unaccompanied minors.

The Presidency aims at reaching a partial general approach and at starting negotiations with the EP at the earliest opportunity.

IV QUALIFICATION REGULATION (COD 2016/0223)

Under Estonian Presidency, a mandate for negotiations with the European Parliament was obtained in Coreper on 19 July 2017. The provisions containing cross-references to other proposals in the CEAS package and specific provisions, which need further discussion in the Council preparatory bodies, are not included in this mandate and are expected to be agreed at a later stage. Two specific issues (the definitions of family members and a new annex, which would contain the various information to be provided to the beneficiaries of international protection) are also not included in the mandate either. The Presidency intends to discuss further these two issues already in October with the aim of including them in a revised mandate by the end of its term.

The trilogues with the European Parliament have started in September 2017. The first discussions highlighted, among others, the following sensitive issues: approximation of both statuses and length of residence permits, Internal Protection Alternative and its application, status reviews for beneficiaries of refugee and subsidiary protection statuses, the possibility for a beneficiary of international protection to remain on the territory of the Member State for three months after the withdrawal of the status on the basis of cessation (“grace period”). On these aspects, the positions of the Council and of the European Parliament are very different and, therefore, complex negotiations are to be envisaged.

The Presidency’s aim is to advance the discussions with the European Parliament as much as possible towards an agreement by the end of its term.

V PROCEDURES REGULATION (COD 2016/0224)

The Estonian Presidency finalised the first examination of the whole proposal on the Asylum Procedure Regulation, in the beginning of September, and started the discussion of the first draft compromise proposals in the Asylum Working Party in the same month. In June 2017, the European Council gave a clear mandate to the Council to align the Commission´s proposal on the Asylum Procedures Regulation, regarding the safe third country concept, with the effective requirements of the Geneva Convention and the EU primary law. In order to identify the best way to fulfil this mandate, the Presidency held a policy debate on this issue in SCIFA (28 September 2017). As a next step, the Presidency aims to redraft the relevant provisions in the Asylum Procedure Regulation. The Presidency intends to pursue the examination of the compromise proposals and to make as much progress as possible towards a general approach.

VI EURODAC REGULATION (COD 2016/0132)

Following the agreement at Coreper, on 15 June 2017, on an extended mandate for negotiations with the EP and the vote in the LIBE committee, on 30 May 2017, negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament on the recast Eurodac Regulation started in September 2017.

While the positions of both the Council and the EP are rather similar on most provisions of the recast Regulation, access of law enforcement authorities to Eurodac, data retention periods and special provisions relating to minors can be expected to require negotiations that are expected to be more complex. Both co-legislators aim at reaching an agreement on this file before the end of the term of the current Presidency.

As regards the inclusion of data on resettled persons in Eurodac, the Presidency will present drafting proposals to the Council preparatory bodies in order to complete the mandate for negotiations with the European Parliament.

VII.      EUAA REGULATION (COD 2016/0131)

Following the agreement on a partial general approach in Council, on 20 December 2016, the Maltese Presidency started negotiations with the European Parliament in January 2017.

As a result of a series of technical meetings and trilogues, the Maltese Presidency reached an agreement on the enacting terms of the text during the trilogue of 28 June. The Estonian Presidency is currently continuing work at a technical level in order to align the recitals of the text with the main body of the proposal. The issue of references to other proposals in the field of the CEAS that have been placed in square brackets in the Council´s mandate for inter-institutional negotiations still needs to be reflected upon after the end of technical discussions.

VIII.    RESETTLEMENT REGULATION (COD 2016/0225)

JHA Counsellors have pursued the discussion on the Resettlement Framework Regulation and have examined draft compromise proposals at two meetings under the Estonian Presidency (18 September and 3 October).

Progress has already been made on many aspects of the proposal, but there are still some issues that remain open, including the definitions and the scope of “resettlement” and “humanitarian admission” as well as the status given to the persons admitted.

The Presidency is currently working on new compromise proposals in order to make progress in this file at JHA Counsellors level. The Presidency aims to reach a Council´s mandate for starting negotiations with the European Parliament at the earliest opportunity.

CONCLUSION : COREPER and Council are invited to take note of this progress report.

 

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