Common Asylum Procedure Regulation: ICJ comments on the current proposal of the Regulation

THE ORIGINAL DOCUMENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION OF JURISTS  IS PUBLISHED HERE  (April 2017)

Introduction

On 13 July 2016, the European Commission published a proposal (Common Asylum Procedure Regulation)1 to repealing the current Common Asylum Procedures Directive (2013/32/EU).2 In this briefing paper, the ICJ presents its comments on several key procedural aspects of the proposed Regulation in view of the possible impact on the rights of asylum seekers in Europe.3

The areas most impacted include access to legal information; legal assistance, representation and legal aid; accelerated and border procedures; and access to an effective remedy.

The proposed Regulation is one of the instruments of the Common European Asylum System4 of the EU. It is intended to replace the current Asylum Procedures Directive with a Regulation and thereby aims to reduce the scope of discretion enjoyed by Member States in the implementation of matters covered under its provisions.5

The proposal of 13 July 2016 was developed in reaction to the increased arrivals of refugees in 2015 which was identified by the European Commission as a “refugee crisis for the EU.”6 In 2015, over one million people – refugees, displaced persons and other migrants – made their way to EU countries. The International Organization for Migration has estimated that some 3,771 of these persons died on their journey7 and a high number of people were stranded in the border countries, mainly Italy and Greece. The European Commission reacted with a number of legislative and policy proposals, among them a proposal for intra-EU relocation schemes,8 and the new Common European Asylum System directives and regulations.

  1. Scope of the proposal

(a)  Regulation proposal

Recital 7 and Article 2.1 would limit the scope of the Regulation to territory, border, territorial waters and transit zones. Recital 7 states that  : “This Regulation should apply to all applications for international protection made in the territory of the Member States, including those made at the external border, on the territorial sea or in the transit zones of Member States, and the withdrawal of international protection. Persons seeking international protection who are present on the territorial sea of a Member State should be disembarked on land and have their applications examined in accordance with this Regulation.”

Article 2.1 states that: “This Regulation applies to all applications for international protection made in the territory of the Member States, including at the external border, in the territorial sea or in the transit zones of the Member States, and to the withdrawal of international protection.”

(b)  Analysis of International and EU law

The limitation of the scope of the Regulation to territory, border, territorial waters and transit zones does not cover all situations, which fall under the protective jurisdiction of a State under international human rights law. Consequently, there are situations where the right of asylum (Article 18 EU Charter), the prohibition of non-refoulement, and other human rights cannot be guaranteed or risk being undermined, such as in the case of interception or rescue in international waters.

Under international human rights law, jurisdiction is generally broader than that contemplated under Recital 7 and Article 2.1. While the exact scope of a State’s protective jurisdiction will be dependent on the primary treaty or other source of law providing the basis for the protection, a common minimum standard under international human rights law is that, “jurisdiction” applies to all persons who fall under the authority or the effective control of the State’s authorities or of other people acting on its behalf, and to all extraterritorial zones, whether of a foreign State or not, where the State exercises effective control of the territory on which the person is situated.

Particularly under the European Convention of Human Rights, the leading case Al-Skeini and others v. UK, where the European Court of Human Rights (Grand Chamber) also provided a clarification as to the extraterritorial reach of the European Convention and its jurisprudence on jurisdiction.10 Among the various means in which the jurisdiction of Convention extended extraterritorially, was that of control and authority of individuals, irrespective of territory on which control and authority are exercised: “It is clear that, whenever the State through its agents exercises control and authority over an individual, and thus jurisdiction, the State is under an obligation under Article 1 to secure to that individual the rights and freedoms under Section 1 of the Convention that are relevant to the situation of that individual.11 Similarly, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which all EU States are Party, States “must respect and ensure the rights laid down in the Covenant to anyone within the power of effective control of that State Party, even if not situated within the territory of the State Party.12” In respect of some of other human rights treaties, obligations extend with no territorial limitations whatsoever. For instance, the International Court of Justice has said that “there is no restriction of a general nature in the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination”, to which all EU member States are a party, and therefore it applies to all State actions within or outside its territory.13

A State may have obligations to respect and protect the rights of persons who have not entered the territory, but who have otherwise entered areas under the authority and control of the State, or who have been subject to extra-territorial action (such as detention) by a State agent who has placed them under the control of that State. Of particular relevance for migrants is the fact that the State’s jurisdiction may extend in certain situations to international waters. The European Court of Human Rights has clearly affirmed that measures of interception of boats, including on the high seas, attract the jurisdiction of the State implementing the interception. From the moment of effective control of the boat, all the persons on it fall within the jurisdiction of the intercepting State, which must secure and protect their human rights.14 The same principles apply in the context of operations of rescue at sea.

(c) Conclusions and recommendations

The ICJ recommends extending the scope of the Regulation so as to apply to all situations where the Member State has effective authority or control over the asylum seeker, including in international waters.

  1. Access to legal information

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EU-Afghanistan “Joint Way Forward on migration issues”: another “surrealist” EU legal text ?

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by Luigi LIMONE (*)

It may be a coincidence but this year we are not only celebrating the 50th anniversary of Rene’ MAGRITTE painter’s death but also witnessing his surrealist approach spreading also in the EU Institutions and Member States legal practice.

We already know already that the core of 90% of legislative interinstitutional negotiations takes place in a confidential “informal” framework (the so called “trilogues” procedure) which run against the Treaties grounded obligation of legislative debates to be held in public.

Thanks to the Court of Justice (Cases T-192/16, T-193/16 and T-257/16) we have also recently discovered that the EU-Turkey “deal” on migration which was trumpeted as an EU achievement by the European Council President was not in fact an EU agreement because “neither the European Council nor any other institution of the EU decided to conclude an agreement with the Turkish Government on the subject of the migration crisis.”  According to the CJEU press release “In the absence of any act of an institution of the EU, the legality of which it could review under Article 263 TFEU, the Court has declared that it lacked jurisdiction to hear and determine the actions brought by the three asylum seekers. For the sake of completeness, with regard to the reference in the ‘EU-Turkey statement’ to the fact that ‘the EU and [the Republic of] Turkey agreed on … additional action points’, the Court has considered that, even supposing that an international agreement could have been informally concluded during the meeting of 18 March 2016, something which has been denied by the European Council,  the Council  of  the European Union  and the  European Commission in the  present  cases, that agreement would have been an agreement concluded by the Heads of State or Government of the Member States of the EU and the Turkish Prime Minister. In an action brought under Article 263 TFEU, however, the Court does not have jurisdiction to rule on the lawfulness of an international agreement concluded by the Member States.”

 

Now a third example of legal surrealist approach is offered to us by the Joint Way Forward (JWF) declaration on migration issues with Afghanistan and the EU. It was signed during the Afghanistan donor conference which took place in Brussels on 4 and 5 October 2016 and brought together representatives from 75 countries and 26 international organizations, with the ultimate aim of finding new funding solutions to end violence and introduce a political process towards lasting peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Unlike for the EU-Turkey “deal” this time the EU Institutions recognize to be responsible of this text.  Intervening before the European Parliament competent committee (LIBE)  Simon Mordue, Deputy Director-General for Migration, DG Migration and Asylum (DG HOME), this declaration aims to facilitate the return process of irregular Afghans and to support their sustainable reintegration in the Afghan society, while fighting the criminal network of smugglers and traffickers at the same time. The objective, as stated in the document, is “to establish a rapid, effective and manageable process for a smooth, dignified and orderly return of Afghan nationals who do not fulfill the conditions in force for entry to, presence in, or residence on the territory of the EU, and to facilitate their reintegration in Afghanistan in a spirit of cooperation”. The document also clarifies that “in their cooperation under this declaration, the EU and Afghanistan remain committed to all their international obligations, in particular: a) respecting the provisions of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 New York Protocol; b) upholding the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights and the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights; c) respecting the safety, dignity and human rights of irregular migrants subject to a return and readmission procedure”.

The little detail is that even if the wording of the text looks like an international agreement  the Commission has clearly stated also before the EP plenary that the text is not.. binding even if, its wording, objective and content, is the same of a formal readmission agreement like the ones that the European Union has so far concluded with 17 non-EU countries an which have approved by the European Parliament following art. 79 par 3 of the TFEU. (SEE NOTE BELOW)

According to the Commission the Joint Way Forward  should instead be considered a simple “joint statement”,  not legally enforceable wich simply “paves the way for a structural dialogue and cooperation on migration issues, based on a commitment to identify effective ways to address the needs of both sides”.  However, as noted by Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch, also the readmission agreement with Turkey of 18 March 2016 originated in the form of two letters and of an informal declaration and the European Union. Now the EU has adopted the same approach with Afghanistan.

Is the joint declaration with Afghanistan, in fact, representing  another attempt to conclude a readmission agreement, while bypassing the rules (art.79 p 3 and 218 of the TFEU)   laid down in the EU Treaties for the conclusion of international readmission agreements and notably the approbation by the the European Parliament?

 

The Joint Way Forward (JWF) declaration is in line with the recent political shift in EU foreign policy, which now primarily focuses on curbing migration and making deterrence and expulsion the main objectives of its relationships with third countries. The shift towards the externalization of migration management and control is exemplified by the new Partnership Framework, which was proposed by the European Commission in June 2016 under the European Agenda on Migration. The ultimate aim of the Partnership Framework is “a coherent and tailored engagement where the Union and its Member States act in a coordinated manner putting together instruments, tools and leverage to reach comprehensive partnerships (“compacts”) with third countries to better manage migration in full respect of our humanitarian and human rights obligations”.

In practice, the Partnership Framework has introduced an alternative approach with regards to readmission agreements, which are now concluded in the form of informal agreements by means of “informal” swift procedures.

This is done  , under pressure from some Member States, in particular Germany. It was already the case for the “non-EU” agreement with Turkey on March 2016, and also now Germany has hardly fought for a rapid adoption of an “informal” agreement with Afghanistan. Faced with the rise in arrivals form Afghanistan, in October 2015 the German Ministry of Interior Thomas de Maizières had already announced that Germany wanted to return to Afghanistan all the Afghan nationals who were not eligible for asylum, including those who had lived in Iran or Pakistan and, consequently, had no link to Afghanistan itself, and that to do so he would have urged the European Union to negotiate an agreement with the government of Kabul.  By invoking the need urgently facing the migration crisis, the political priorities of the Member States are now “deterrence” and “expulsion” and this has also gained the support of  EU Commission which is increasingly moving towards packaging these priorities in a format which  bypass the European Parliament and the lengthy formal procedures with a high risk of  human rights violations.  In fact, this new fast-track approach not only prevents any form of democratic scrutiny but also ignores the concerns of the civil society about the situation in Afghanistan and about the major risks of rights violations, such as the principle of non-refoulement, exposure to inhuman and degrading treatment, protection against collective expulsions and the right to asylum.

Afghans constitute the second-largest group of asylum seekers in Europe, with 196,170 applying in 2015. The country is experiencing ongoing and escalated conflict, despite the efforts of the EU to present it as a country that is safe for returnees and able to reintegrate them successfully. The conflict has left more than 1.2 million people without permanent homes and has resulted in three million refugees fleeing to Pakistan and Iran. Since January 2015, around 242,000 Afghans have fled to the EU. Furthermore, the country is already facing a large number of returnees from the region. In 2015, more than 190,000 Afghan documented refugees have returned from neighbouring countries. People are exposed to a deeply deteriorating security situation, as provinces such as Helmand and Kunduz fall in to the hands of armed groups yet again.

Despite this situation, the Joint Way Forward declaration gives clear signals that the European Union will once again engage in a conduct that puts into question its obligation to protect those fleeing conflicts or persecution and to safeguard the human rights of all persons as required by the EU Charter. The declaration provides for measures to facilitate the return and readmission of Afghan nationals, such as the use of non-scheduled flights to Kabul, joint flights from several EU Member States organized and coordinated by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), including the possibility to build a dedicated terminal for return in Kabul airport. The Joint Way Forward declaration also opens up the return of women and unaccompanied children and no mention is made to the best interest of the child. The document, in fact, states that “special measures will ensure that such vulnerable groups receive adequate protection, assistance and care throughout the whole process”.

It has to be acknowledged that some Members of the European Parliament have already raised several concerns on the legitimacy of the Joint Way Forward declaration as well as on its content. They have criticized the approach of the European Commission with regard to the adoption of informal readmission agreements as well as the conditionality imposed to third countries. In fact, the format introduced by the Partnership Framework implies a kind of connection between development aid and the third country’s willingness to cooperate for the management of migration flows. It is clear that countries like Afghanistan which are strongly dependent on foreign aid for their revenues might have no other choice but to forcibly accept to cooperate in order to receive development and financial support in exchange.

The European Union must comply with the provisions of the Treaties as well as with its democratic principles and protection of human rights, in order to avoid the replication of the EU-Turkey “statement” and the EU-Afghanistan Joint Way Forward “declaration” with other third countries, in primis Libya and Sudan which have already been identified as “interesting partners” by Italy.

 

ANNEX EU-Legal Framework on readmission agreements

EU Readmission Agreements (EURAs) are based on reciprocal obligations and are concluded between the European Union and non-EU countries to facilitate the return of people residing irregularly in a country to their country of origin or to a country of transit. The EU has stated that readmission agreements with third countries of both origin and transit constitute a cornerstone for effective migration management and for the efficient return of third country nationals irregularly present in the EU. The objective of these agreements for the EU Member States is to facilitate the expulsion of third country nationals either to their country of origin or to a country through which they transited on route to the EU. As such, they are crucial to the EU return policy, as defined in the Return Directive (Directive 2008/115/EC).

Readmission agreements are negotiated in a broader context where partner countries are usually granted visa facilitation, which means simpler procedures for their nationals to obtain shorter stay visas to come to EU Member States, and other incentives such as financial support for implementing the agreement or special trade conditions in exchange for readmitting people residing irregularly in the EU.

The legal basis for the conclusion of readmission agreements with third countries is Article 79(3) TFEU which states that “the Union may conclude agreements with third countries for the readmission to their countries of origin or provenance of third-country nationals who do not or who no longer fulfil the conditions for entry, presence or residence in the territory of one of the Member States”. These agreements are negotiated with the partner country on the basis of a negotiating mandate grated by the Council to the Commission and they are then concluded after the European Parliament has given its consent. According to article 218(6) TFEU the European Parliament must, in fact, give its consent prior to the conclusion of association and similar agreements. Moreover, according to article 210(10) TFEU the European Parliament shall be immediately and fully informed at all stages of the procedure.

 

(*) FREE Group Trainee

PARLIAMENTARY TRACKER : THE NEW PROPOSAL ON SYSTEMATIC CONTROLS AT EU EXTERNAL BORDERS

by Beatrice FRAGASSO (*)

On Friday 7 April,   Regulation (EU) 2017/458  reinforcing of checks against relevant databases at external borders for all travellers crossing the external Schengen borders, including European nationals, has entered into force. It is the latest  but not the last amendment to the Schengen Border Code (Regulation (EC) 562/2006 ): other amendments are currently negotiated in the framework of the so called Smart Border Package (and others will follow in the coming months) such as

-the two proposals on the ENTRY-EXIT System (issues currently debated are i) the scope of the EES; ii) the optimal choice and use of biometric identifiers; iii) the calculation of the 90/180 day- timeframe regarding Member States which do not yet apply the Schengen acquis in full; iv) the conditions under which stamps will still be used on travel documents; v) the transfer of data to third countries and other third parties; vi)the interaction between the EES and the bilateral agreements under which a Member State extends the stay of the third country national concerned for a period longer than 90 days).

-the proposal to create a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) in order for the visa-exempt third country nationals to be authorised to travel to the Schengen Area for short-stay visits following a pre-screening prior to their trip. Such pre-screening should allow the competent authorities to assess whether such travel poses a security or migration risk. However, it should be noted that this authorisation would not grant entry to the Schengen Area, which remains to be decided by the border guards. ETIAS would cover all external border types (air, land and sea).

– the establishment of additional functionalities for the SIS such as the creation of SIS alerts on irregular migrants who are the subject of return decisions; the use of facial images for biometric identification, in addition to fingerprints; the automatic transmission of information on a hit following a check; the storing of hit information on discreet and specific check alerts in the SIS Central System; the creation of a new alert category on ‘Wanted Unknown Persons’ for which forensic data may exist in national databases (e.g. a latent print left behind at a crime scene) and the extension of the scope of SIS for immigration purposes.  (SEE 7644/16 – Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and to the Council Stronger and Smarter Information Systems for Borders and Security)

PROCEDURAL ASPECTS :

This latest reform  reinforcing of checks against relevant databases at external borders (Legislative PROCEDURE COD(2015)0307) was proposed by the European Commission (see COM(2015)0670) at the end of 2015 following the Paris terrorists attacks. The Council adopted a “general approach” already on February 25 , 2016 as a basis for a trilogue with the European Parliament and the Commission.

On his side the EP LIBE Committee adopted its Report on 21 June 2016 (A8-0218/2016) . Since then, several technical meetings  and at least three trilogues meetings , (on 13 July 2016, 11 October 2016 and 5 December 2016 ) have taken place. As usual there is no transparency on this kind of legislative negotiations from June 2016 to February 2017 and the only accessible reference is a multicolumn document leaked by Statewatch (dated 8 July 2016). According to that document and other informal sources the main issues debated between the Parliament and the Council were : i) regarding air borders, the extent of the transitional period during which it will be possible to derogate from the systematic checks; ii) the question whether reference should be made in the text to consultation of national data bases to verify that there is no threat to the internal security, etc.; iii) the question whether the scope of cases to be exempted from systematic checks under certain conditions shall be limited to the disproportionate delays (and if allowed by the relevant risk analysis) or would be broaden; iv) The sunset clause which the Parliament wants to be included in the text in order to have the application of this Regulation terminated after a given time.

The Member States pressure on the European Parliament has been particularly strong after  the “informal” meeting of the Heads of State or Government at Bratislava on 16 September 2016 and the result of it (and of the trilogues) has been a compromise wich has been endorsed by LIBE has submitted and submitted to the  European Parliament.

The latter has adopted its position on 16 February 2017 and this  text  is particularly interesting because it shows clearly all the amendments agreed on by the Co-legislator (European Parliament and Council) on the original Commission proposal.. Needless to say, the Council unanimously endorsed the text on Tuesday 7 March, with the only exception of UK, IRL (which can decide to join later) and of DK.

However Slovenia while approving the text confirmed in a separate statement its strong concerns because  “.. checks carried out systematically on all persons crossing the external borders, including those enjoying the right of free movement under Union Law, without targeted checks as a basic principle for efficient border checks and without taking into consideration justified exemptions, is a disproportionate measure in relation to the pursued objective of the change….Additional doubts to the efficiency of the new provisions of Article 7(2) of the Code are related to the possible transitional period for border checks at air borders that are especially vulnerable part of the external borders. The implementation on the scale as specified in Article 7 (2) of the Code will have an adverse effect on passenger flows at external borders as it will also have financial implications for Member States. Slovenia cannot be held ultimately accountable for such outcomes.”

These concerns have been echoed also in a statement of Croatia. The latter is formally a member of the Schengen cooperation but has still to obtain (like Romania and Bulgaria) the Council decision which states that  all the technical tests have been past and internal controls can be suppressed. In practice Croatia is considered still outside the Schengen area and the internal borders controls with Slovenia and Hungary will continue until the Council gives its green light.  For this reason “..the Republic of Croatia regrets that these measures are to be implemented not only at the European Union’s external borders but also at internal borders between Member States fully applying the Schengen acquis and Member States not yet fully applying the Schengen acquis. The title of the Regulation itself implies its application at the European Union’s external borders, not at Schengen borders. For that precise reason, all Member States should have been treated equally. Such a regime will constitute a significant additional burden on the national resources of the Republic of Croatia in terms of the required level of technical and personnel capacities, which could have negative implications for the Croatian economy and the efficient flow of passenger and goods traffic. The Republic of Croatia considers that not even at a symbolic level does such a regime at internal borders contribute to unity in achieving the objectives of this Regulation….”

SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NEW REGULATION AND ECHOES OF THE EP DEBATE 

To have an idea of the impact of the new regulation suffice to remember that in 2014 there has been 60.906.914 Schengen external borders crossings of those 48.792.665 EU citizens.  In the first half of 2016: 26.842.855 passengers, of those 21.385.972 EU citizens.

The new Regulation concerns in particular the Article 7 of Regulation 562/2006, that rules the border checks on persons. Reinforcing the checks against databases at external borders is a response, in particular, to the increased threat of terrorism, and it aims to guarantee the proper functioning of the Schengen area. The new regulation introduces the obligation of systematic checking of all citizens (also EU citizens) at air, sea and land borders on the basis of police databases, such as the Schengen Information System (SIS) or the Interpol database of stolen or missing documents, in view of tracking journeys possibly made for terrorist purposes.

While third-country nationals are already subject to systematic document and security checks against relevant databases upon entry, according to the current legislation EU citizens were subjects to a minimum control based on a rapid and straightforward verification of the validity of the travel document for crossing the border.

The phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters, many of whom are Union citizens, has generated the need to reinforce checks at external borders with regard to persons enjoying the right of free movement under Union law (i.e. EU citizens and members of their families who are not EU citizens). These new provisions try to face the risks posed by returning terrorist foreign fighters, who have returned to the EU from non-EU countries, exercising their right of free movement.

The regulation introduces a new ordinary procedure for border checking.

The travel documents of persons enjoying the right of free movement under Union law should be checked systematically, on entry into and on exit from the territory of Member States, against SIS and Interpol databases for stolen, misappropriated, lost and invalidated travel documents in order to ensure that such persons do not hide their real identity.

Border guards should conduct systematically checks using data provided by the SIS, Interpol database on stolen and lost travel documents, national databases. To that end, the Member States should ensure that their border guards have access at external border crossing points to the national and Union databases.

The EP rapporteur Monica Macovei (ECR – Romania) at the plenary (on 15 February 2017) gave an example of how the control system is supposed to work: the passport will be scanned and, if one of the databases shows information about that person, further analysis will be done on that traveller. She underlined that it will be a fast verification, because border guards will utilise only one interface, that gather all the databases. According to the regulation, such systematic checks of course should be carried out in full compliance with relevant Union law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and should fully respect human dignity.

As an exception to the systematic controls, Member States will be allowed to carry out “targeted” (non-systematic) control to particular cases in which systematic checks at the border would have a disproportionate impact on the flow of the traffic. In these cases, a Member State may decide to carry out those checks on a targeted basis at specified border crossing points. This exemption is allowed just if, on the basis of a risk assessment, it is determined that such a relaxation would not lead to a security risk. Such a risk assessment should be transmitted to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.  In cases where there are doubts about the travel document or where there are indications that such a person could represent a threat to the public policy, internal security, public health or international relations of the Member States, the border guard should consult all named databases.

The regulation provides for adaptations to take account of the problems, mostly of a technical nature, raised by certain member states: at the air borders, for instance, the Member States will be allowed to carry out “targeted” controls over a six-month transition period, once the new regulation enters into force. This timeframe could then be extended for a maximum 18-month period in exceptional circumstances, for instance if airports need to adapt because they do not have the infrastructure to enable them to carry out the systematic controls.

The rapporteur Monica Macovei (ECR – Romania) at the plenary (on 15 February 2017) highlighted the main changes to the Schengen Borders Code. Since now EU citizens have not been checked on entering and leaving the Schengen area and the citizens from third countries are checked only at the entrance, and not in exit. This will change with the regulation: everyone, EU citizens, and non-EU citizens, will be checked both at entry and exit of the EU external border (and not only of the Schengen Area). The rapporteur underlined also the important responsibility of Member States in the regulation’s implementation: Member States should enter data into the EU databases and ensure that the data are accurate and up-to-date and that they are obtained and entered lawfully.

However, the first days of implementation showed some difficulties and inadequacies of the Regulation. As the deputy Tanja Fajon (S&D, Slovenia) had already predicted in her intervention at the plenary (15 february 2017), the first days of implementation produced traffic chaos on some borders, especially on the Slovenia-Croatia one (Slovenia is a member of the Schengen Area, Croatia not yet). Many holidaymakers from Austria, Germany and Switzerland spent hours in queues and during Easter break and summer holidays it will probably get worst.

Tanja Fajon stated that border guards would not have been able to handle the new provisions and that border states would have dealt with queues at the borders. She pointed out that the new rules are characterized by an excessive inflexibility and that they are too unbalanced: they increase security but at the expense of measures user-friendly for all passengers.

And that’s what happened the last weekend on the Slovenia-Croatia borders. Late on Friday Slovenian police suspended the systematic checks of all passengers and continued checking only those from third countries, as the Regulation allows in particular cases in which systematic checks have a disproportionate impact on the flow of the traffic. Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar said that Slovenian police would continue with a “softer” implementation of the new regime until the normalisation of conditions at the border. He stated that the new Regulation is “unacceptable” and the Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic agreed with him: Slovenia and Croatia will present proposals to the European Commission to change the Regulation as soon as possible.

The debate at the plenary that took place on 15 February shows also other controversial elements in the Regulation, criticized by MEPs.

Sophia in t’ Veld, on behalf of the Alde Group, criticized the lack of impact assessment, as also Ulrike Lunacek (on behalf of Verts/ALE Group) did: they criticized the fact that the Commission didn’t give any proof that the regulation will make EU more secure. In second place, both the groups find it strange that the Commission use as justification for the proposal the Paris attacks, because one of the main shortcomings emerged in that case was that Member States were not sharing information and terrorists were able to cross internal borders without problems.

Then, with regard with legislative text, Alde group would have preferred a risk-based system, proportional and necessary, rather than the default setting of systematic checks. They also would have liked risk assessment at the European level, based on common European criteria.

Furthermore, they pushed for an equal treatment of land, air and sea borders, with no results. It would therefore have been logical to introduce this equivalence, because if everybody is submitted to systematic checks at airports, but there can be exceptions for land and sea borders, obviously a person who wants to escape control will take the car.

However, Alde group is satisfied for the introduction of the limitation of compulsory checks to well-defined databases, rather than the general reference that was included initially (all relevant databases).

Marie-Christine Vergiat, on behalf of the GUE/NGL group, affirmed that her group firmly oppose the regulation, because it represents another stage in the building of Europe as a security state. GUE/NGL affirm that controls will be random because databases will be consulted just in case of doubt about the validity of travel documents and certain categories of person may also be exempted. They consider that this regulation will affect fundamental rights, without the right to the safety being strengthened.

Laurențiu Rebega, on behalf of ENF group, pointed out that under the justification of security they are building huge databases which are beyond any democratic control. Furthermore, they consider unfair and humiliating that States that are not in Schengen will have the same obligations of Schengen States, but without enjoying the same rights.

All the interventions, anyway, highlighted that the Regulation will be useless if Member States keep ignore the system in place and if Member States do not feed information into it and do not check it. Member States should accept that there is an obligation to use the existing system. The parliamentary debate shows also the shared need to improve dialogue between the databases, and interconnectivity between them and the infrastructure responsible for management of external borders, in full respect of the rules on data protection and fundamental rights.

(*) FREE Group Trainee

  1. Statement by SloveniaThe Republic of Slovenia reaffirms its commitment to implement the provisions of the Schengen Border Code (hereinafter the Code) introducing strengthened checks on persons crossing the external borders of Member States, also on those enjoying the right of free movement under Union law. While the purpose of exercising border checks in this manner is expected to deliver an improvement to control of external borders, to increase Member States’ internal security and to prevent terrorism, this will also have other consequences.By this declaration, Slovenia wishes to draw attention to the potential consequences that will follow from consistent implementation of Article 7(2) of the Code.
    The Republic of Slovenia, as a country whose territory is one of the most heavily burdened entry and exit areas enabling access to Member States1, is fully aware of its responsibility of carrying out border control in the interest of all Member States. In Slovenia’s view, checks carried out systematically on all persons crossing the external borders, including those enjoying the right of free movement under Union Law, without targeted checks as a basic principle for efficient border checks and without taking into consideration justified exemptions, is a disproportionate measure in relation to the pursued objective of the change. Additional doubts to the efficiency of the new provisions of Article 7(2) of the Code are related to the possible transitional period for border checks at air borders that are especially vulnerable part of the external borders. The implementation on the scale as specified in Article 7 (2) of the Code will have an adverse effect on passenger flows at external borders as it will also have financial implications for Member States. Slovenia cannot be held ultimately accountable for such outcomes.

    Slovenia also welcomes the intention of the European Commission to assess regularly the implementation of the Code, including the consequences of amended provisions, and propose relevant amendments if necessary.

    Statement by Croatia

    The Republic of Croatia supports the objective of this Regulation. It is of the opinion that implementing the mechanisms established thereunder will help to strengthen and maintain security throughout the territory of the European Union and the Schengen area, and also contribute to the overall control of our border, that is the external border of the European Union. At the same time, the Republic of Croatia regrets that these measures are to be implemented not only at the European Union’s external borders but also at internal borders between Member States fully applying the Schengen acquis and Member States not yet fully applying the Schengen acquis. The title of the Regulation itself implies its application at the European Union’s external borders, not at Schengen borders. For that precise reason, all Member States should have been treated equally. Such a regime will constitute a significant additional burden on the national resources of the Republic of Croatia in terms of the required level of technical and personnel capacities, which could have negative implications for the Croatian economy and the efficient flow of passenger and goods traffic. The Republic of Croatia considers that not even at a symbolic level does such a regime at internal borders contribute to unity in achieving the objectives of this Regulation.

    Nevertheless, the Republic of Croatia remains fully committed to consistent compliance with and implementation of the Regulation, and welcomes the European Commission’s intention to regularly monitor its implementation and propose relevant amendments whenever it deems this possible.

    With a view to ensuring efficient implementation, the Republic of Croatia also recalls the specific situations of certain Member States and invites the European Commission to take steps, in consultation with stakeholders and further to the European Council conclusions of December 2016, to find appropriate solutions to address those specific situations.

    The Republic of Croatia therefore has an interest and is actively engaged in finding ways to mitigate the undesired consequences of the measures introduced on the flow of passenger and goods traffic both at its external border and at its internal land border with the Republic of Slovenia and Hungary. Bearing in mind the Regulation’s objective and benefits for the European Union as a whole and the fact that it enjoys the broad support of Member States, the Republic of Croatia, as a constructive Member State, supports its adoption.

     

Law Enforcement – Are the Strasbourg Court Judgments the Tip of the Iceberg?

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON OMNIA BLOG (on 23 Mar 2017)

Head of Division and Deputy to the Director, Office of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.All views expressed herein are strictly personal.

A number of reports by international human rights organisations, like CPT and Amnesty International, have recorded  numerous cases of ill-treatment, including torture, suffered by migrants while under the control of Greek law enforcement officials. Despite the frequent reporting of such incidents there have not been any major cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights (‘Strasbourg Court’ or ‘the Court’) until recently. In 2003 the first application (Alsayed Allaham), concerning the ill-treatment of a Syrian migrant by police in Athens, was lodged. The 2007 judgment against Greece in Alsayed Allaham was followed by another judgment in 2012 in the Zontul case condemning Greece once more for failing to investigate the rape of a Turkish asylum-seeking detainee by a coast guard officer in Crete. Both cases demonstrated the need for structural changes in Greek law and practice in order to eradicate impunity and ill-treatment in the law enforcement sector.

In both cases the Court found violations of Article 3 (prohibition of torture) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) highlighting faults in judicial and administrative proceedings. In Alsayed Allaham it was noted that the appeal court that acquitted the policeman for ill-treatment relied on testimonies of five eye-witnesses, three of whom were police officers, and gave no credit to medical reports that had verified the applicant’s injuries. In addition, no weight was given to the fact that the Head of the Greek police himself had sanctioned the two policemen involved in the applicant’s ill-treatment.

In Zontul the Strasbourg Court found that the administrative investigation and the subsequent criminal proceedings had been seriously flawed. Among the major shortcomings identified by the Court in the coast guard investigation was the failure to ensure the examination of the victim by a medical doctor despite the victim’s request and the improper recording of the victim’s statement as a ‘slap’ and ‘use of psychological violence’, instead of a rape. The sentence imposed on the officer, a suspended term of six months’ imprisonment for bodily injury and sexual dignity-related offences, was commuted to a fine of €4.40 per day of detention.

These two cases highlighted some key failings of the domestic criminal law system. First, the clemency of the criminal sanction imposed on the coast guard officer was manifestly disproportionate in relation to the gravity of the ill-treatment. It also did not demonstrate a deterrent effect nor did it provide an adequate remedy to the victim.

Second, Zontul shed light on a major flaw in Greek law and practice concerning the definition of torture in the criminal code (see more in author’s blog post). The  Court  stressed that, on the basis of its own and other international courts’ case law, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, rape with an object constitutes an act of torture and consequently a clear and substantive violation of Article 3 ECHR. However, according to Article 137A§2 of the Greek criminal code, in order for an act to be defined as torture it requires a ‘planned’ (μεθοδευμένη) infliction of severe physical, and other similar forms of pain on a person by a public official. This requirement, which does not exist in the  definition of torture contained in Article 1 of the 1984 Convention against Torture, makes prosecution and sanctioning extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The culture of impunity of ill-treatment is compounded by the enactment in recent years of a number of laws (e.g. Laws 3904/2010, 4093/2012) that aim to decongest Greek prisons by converting custodial sentences into pecuniary penalties and community service. Regrettably these laws have been applied indiscriminately to cases of ill-treatment by the police. This practice raises serious issues of compatibility with international standards, including the Strasbourg Court’s case law (e.g. Gäfgen v. Germany), according to which penalties imposed in this context should be adequate and dissuasive.

Another fault noted by the Court concerns the prescription terms for serious offences, including torture, by state officials. Because these are subject to ordinary prescription provisions, even where the Strasbourg Court finds a violation of Article 3 ECHR for torture that occurred more than 15 years earlier (as in Zontul), the offender cannot be prosecuted and sanctioned. According to the Greek code of criminal procedure, reopening a case may occur only if this could ameliorate the defendant’s position. However, under the Strasbourg Court’s case law (e.g. Yeter v. Turkey,) when a state agent is accused of crimes that violate Article 3 ECHR, the prosecution must not be time-barred and the granting of an amnesty or pardon should not be permissible.

Unfortunately, the Court in its  judgments in Alsayed Allaham and Zontul failed to highlight the potential racial bias by law enforcement officers in the ill-treatment of migrants. According to the CPT visit reports on Greece, since 1997 there has been a clear pattern of migrant ill-treatment among Greek law enforcement occasionally with flagrantly racist overtones. In addition, the yearly incidents of racist violence involving law enforcement officials, which were recorded from 2012 to 2015 by the national Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) ranged  from 11 to 31 per year, pointing to the prevalence of racist incidents in Greek territory.

Yet, Alsayed Allaham and Zontul reveal the institutionalised ill-treatment against migrants by Greek law enforcement officials. As noted in the 2015 CPT visit report on Greece, in defiance of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the national authorities consistently refuse to consider the violence of the police as a serious, systematic problem. As a consequence, the authorities have not taken adequate measures to combat it and eliminate impunity for serious human rights violations.

Evidence of the ill-treatment of migrants can also be found in the Greek Ombudsman’s reports. In 2007, for example, the annual report referred to cases of serious ill-treatment of migrants by coast guard officers. In a special report on racist violence in Greece issued in 2013 the Ombudsman noted that in 2012 their office received 17 complaints (involving migrants and a national of migrant origin) concerning inappropriate attitudes of police officers which were probably racially biased. The Ombudsman’s 2015 annual report referred to two more cases concerning the ill-treatment of five migrants following their arrest by police officers in Athens.

Three things need to change. First, Greece needs to establish an effective administrative mechanism to eradicate impunity and to provide adequate redress to all victims of ill-treatment. The latest complaint mechanism established by Law 4443/2016 is certainly a positive step. Yet it falls short of fulfilling the condition of effectiveness given the national complaint mechanisms is chaired by the Ombudsman, who is only empowered to issue non-binding reports.

Secondly, there is a need for a holistic overhaul of criminal law and practice concerning torture and other forms of ill-treatment, as well as of the relevant sentencing policy. The definition of torture contained in the Greek criminal code is in breach of international and European standards. This is one of the major reasons for the long-standing state of impunity for serious human rights violations in the country. At the same time, the criminal law provisions on prescription, conversion of custodial sentences and reopening of cases after Strasbourg Court’s judgments need to be reviewed and amended to ensure victim’s full redress.

Last but not least, particular attention needs to be given by the authorities to migrants who are easily subject to abusive behaviour, including ill-treatment, by law enforcement officials and very often remain voiceless victims. To this end, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has usefully recommended that states place law enforcement agencies under a statutory obligation to promote equality and prevent racial discrimination, including racist violence, in carrying out their functions. Enshrining this obligation in law would oblige these agencies to design and implement specific programmes, such as systematic training and awareness-raising of all staff.

In view of the above, ill-treatment of migrants in Greek law enforcement cannot but be considered as a long-standing systemic problem that calls for sustained and determined action by the state. In a rule-of-law based democracy, law enforcement officers are and should act as professional upholders of the law and providers of services to the public. A precondition for achieving this is the development of policies and practices that oblige all state agents to respect human dignity, irrespective of one’s origin and status.

(This post was first published on the blog of Border Criminologies, Oxford University. It is based on the author’s paper ‘Migrant ill-treatment in Greek law enforcement – Are the Strasbourg Court judgments the tip of the iceberg?’, available at SSRN and in the  SSRN Criminal Justice, Borders & Citizenship Research Papers Series).

(EP BRIEFING) Revision of the Schengen Information System for law enforcement

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED HERE (PDF FILE)

by Costica Dumbrava (Members’ Research Service)

OVERVIEW

The Schengen Information System (SIS) is a large-scale information database that supports external border control and law enforcement cooperation in the Schengen states. It enables competent authorities, such as police and border guards, to enter and consult alerts on certain categories of wanted or missing persons and lost or stolen property. In December 2016, the European Commission adopted a package of proposals aimed at responding more effectively to new migration and security challenges. One of these proposals is focused on improving and extending the use of the SIS in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. It clarifies procedures, creates new alerts and checks, extends the use of biometrics, and enlarges access for law enforcement authorities. The proposal is part of a legislative package that includes a proposal to revise the rules of the SIS in the field of border checks and a proposal for establishing a new role of the SIS in the return of illegally staying third-country nationals.

Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment, operation and use of the Schengen Information System (SIS) in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, amending Regulation (EU) No 515/2014 and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1986/2006, Council Decision 2007/533/JHA and Commission Decision 2010/261/EU
Committee responsible: Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) COM(2016) 883 21.12.2016
Rapporteur: To be appointed 2016/0409(COD)
Shadow rapporteurs: Next steps expected: To be appointed

Initial discussions in committee

Ordinary legislative procedure (COD) (Parliament and Council on equal footing – formerly ‘co-decision’)

 

Introduction

The Schengen Information System (SIS) was established by the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement in 1990, as a primary compensatory measure for the abolition of controls at the internal borders in the Schengen area. SIS II – the current version of the SIS – was established in 2006 and became operational in 2013. Its legal basis is currently defined by Regulation (EC) No 1987/2006 on alerts on persons, Regulation (EC) No 1986/2006 on alerts on vehicles, and Council Decision 2007/533/JHA on alerts on missing and wanted persons and objects.

To respond more effectively to new migration and security challenges in recent years, the European Union (EU) has decided to implement a set of measures aimed at strengthening its external borders, and enhancing cooperation and information exchange between Member States. One such measure was the proposal for a European Border and Coast Guard Agency in 2015 which resulted in the guard being launched in October 2016. Similarly, in December 2015, the European Commission proposed a targeted modification of the Schengen Borders Code to establish mandatory systematic checks for all travellers entering or exiting the EU, and put forward a proposal for a directive on combating terrorism. In January 2016, the European Commission launched a proposal for a directive on the European criminal records information system. In May 2016, the European Commission proposed a revision of the Eurodac Regulation to allow the Eurodac database to be used for identifying illegally staying third-country nationals who do not claim asylum in the EU.

The proposal for a European travel information and authorisation system, put forward in November 2016, is aimed at introducing a mechanism requiring visa-exempt third-country nationals to obtain authorisation to travel to the Schengen area.
In December 2016, the European Commission launched a proposal to establish an EU entry/exit system for recording data on the entry and exit of third-country nationals crossing the EU’s external borders.
The proposal on the revision of the SIS in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation is part of a legislative package along with a proposal to revise the SIS in the field of border checks and a proposal to use the SIS for the return of illegally staying third-country nationals.
The first two proposals contain a number of identical provisions and would constitute the new legal basis for the SIS. The Commission announced it will launch a second set of proposals, to further improve the interoperability of the SIS with other information technology (IT) systems, in mid-2017.

 DeathForTerrorism

Figure 1 -Terrorism-related arrests, attacks and deaths

Data source: Europol, 2014; 2015; 2016.

Context

In 2015, Frontex recorded 1.8 million detections of irregular crossings of the EU’s external borders (about 1 million irregular migrants). Despite EU efforts to stop the flow of irregular migrants, about 0.5 million detections are estimated to have been made in 2016. The number of terrorist attacks in the EU – foiled, failed and completed attacks – increased from 152 to 211 from 2013 to 2015, while the number of persons arrested on terrorism-related charges has doubled in the same period (see Figure 1). At least 151 persons were killed in terrorist attacks in 2015 and the number of deaths caused by such attacks remained high in 2016. Although the majority of perpetrators were EU citizens, many had links with terrorist organisations from outside the EU, and some entered the EU irregularly by exploiting weaknesses of the EU external borders. According to Europol, the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris had links to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, while a number of the suspects involved in the November 2015 Paris attacks had previously travelled to and been trained in Syria. The growing phenomenon of foreign fighters (EU citizens travelling to conflict zones abroad to engage in fighting) reveals another dimension of the complex relationship between migration and cross-border crime. In 2015, about 5 000 EU citizens travelled abroad to engage in terrorist activities. The crackdown against the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIL/Da’esh) has raised serious concerns about the return to Europe of many of these foreign fighters.

Existing situation

Characteristics of the SIS

The SIS consists of three components: 1) a central system; 2) national systems in each Member State that communicate with the central system; and 3) a communication infrastructure. Member States can enter, update, delete, and search data via their national systems, and exchange information via the supplementary information request at the national entry bureaux (Sirene). Member States are responsible for setting up, operating and maintaining their national systems and national Sirene bureaux. The EU Agency for large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice (eu-LISA) is responsible for the operational management of the central system and the communication infrastructure. The Commission is responsible for the general oversight and evaluation of the system and for the adoption of implementing measures. The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) monitors the application of the data protection rules for the central system, while the national data protection authorities supervise the application of the data protection rules in their respective countries.

SIS alerts cover the following categories of persons and objects:

  • refusal of entry or stay to third-country nationals who are not entitled to enter or stay in the Schengen area;
  • persons for whom a European arrest warrant or an extradition request (in the case of associated countries) has been issued;
  • missing persons, in view of placing them under protection, if necessary;
  • persons sought to assist with criminal judicial procedures;
  • persons and objects for discreet or specific checks, in view of prosecuting criminal offences and preventing threats to public or national security;
  • objects for seizure or use as evidence in criminal procedures.

SIS alerts consist of three types of data: identification data for the person or object an alert is about; information about why the person or object is being sought; and instructions for concrete action to be taken by officers on the ground when the person or object is found.

Access to data is given to national authorities responsible for border control, police, customs, visa and vehicle registration and, by extension, to national judicial authorities when this is necessary for the performance of their tasks.

The European Police Office (Europol) and the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit (Eurojust) have limited access rights for performing certain types of queries. SIS checks are mandatory for the processing of short-stay visas, for border checks for third-country nationals and, on a non-systematic basis, for EU citizens and other persons enjoying the right of free movement. Every police check on the territory of a Schengen state should include a check in the SIS. Any person has the right to access SIS data related to them, as provided for by the national law of the Member State concerned. Access may only be refused when this is indispensable for the performance of a lawful task related to an alert, and for protecting the rights and freedoms of other people. Individuals may bring actions before the courts or other authorities competent under the national law to access, correct, delete or retrieve information, or to obtain compensation in connection with an alert relating to them.

Identified shortcomings

According to eu-LISA reports, the total number of alerts inserted in the SIS increased between December 2013 and December 2015 (see Figure 2). These alerts have been distributed unevenly across Member States.

In 2015, three countries had more than half of the total number   of   alerts:   Italy   (18 million), Germany     (9.5 million)     and     France (6.5 million). Despite an increase in the total number of SIS alerts between 2013 and 2015, the number of alerts on persons  has slightly decreased. The number of searches   in   the   SIS   increased   from 1.2 billion to 2.9 billion between April 2013 and December 2015. Member States do not use the SIS equally: in 2015, three Member States conducted about half of the searches: France (555 million), Spain (398 million) and Germany (393 million).
Currently, identity checks in the SIS are based on alphanumeric searches (name and date of birth).
Fingerprints can be used only in order to verify and confirm the identity of a person who has already been identified by name. The SIS legal framework allows the use of facial images and fingerprints in order to verify identity, provided that the necessary technology is available.
In 2016, the European Commission asked eu-LISA to start working on implementing the fingerprint functionality in the SIS. In its March 2016 report, the European Counter-terrorism Coordinator (ECTC) pointed to problems related to the absence of common standards for inserting alerts, interpreting and reporting information in SIS.
With regard to using SIS to combat terrorism, the ECTC noted that Member States continue to apply different standards and did not enter systematically in SIS identified foreign terrorist fighters.
The European Commission has made several legal and technical improvements to the SIS to enable real-time communication from the ground to relevant services in other Member States, and to improve information exchange on terrorist suspects.
In 2015, the Commission revised the Schengen handbook and finalised a set of common risk indicators to be used during border checks in order to detect foreign terrorist fighters. The proposal for a directive on combating terrorism obliges Member States to enter systematically in the SIS alerts on suspected or convicted terrorist offenders.
Currently, there is little interoperability and interconnection between different information systems. The ECTC reported a discrepancy between the numbers of SIS alerts on national security grounds and the number of entries on foreign terrorist fighters in the Europol’s European information system (EIS). All SIS alerts related to terrorism should, by default, also be recorded in the EIS. The Commission announced that it would start working towards introducing a single search interface to allow simultaneous searches to be performed in all relevant systems without changing existing access rights.

Parliament’s starting position

The European Parliament has consistently advocated more effective cooperation between Member States’ law enforcement authorities, provided that appropriate safeguards on data protection and privacy are maintained.
In its resolution of 17 December 2014 on renewing the EU internal security strategy, the Parliament called on the Member States to make better use of valuable existing instruments, including through ‘more expeditious and efficient sharing of relevant data and information’.
In its resolution of 11 February 2015 on anti-terrorism measures, the Parliament restated its call on the Member States to make optimal use of existing databases, and reiterated that ‘all data collection and sharing, including by EU agencies such as Europol, should be compliant with EU and national law and based on a coherent data protection framework offering legally binding personal data protection standards at an EU level’.
In its resolution of 6 July 2016 on the strategic priorities for the Commission work programme 2017, the Parliament called on the Commission to present proposals to improve and develop existing information systems, address information gaps and move towards interoperability.

Council and European Council starting positions

The European Council has repeatedly called to reinforce the management of the EU’s external borders in order to cope with migration pressure and security challenges.
The European Council’s strategic guidelines for justice and home affairs of June 2014 identified the need to improve the link between the EU’s internal and external policies, and called for the intensification of operational cooperation among Member States, ‘while using the potential of information and communication technologies’ innovations’.
In its conclusions of 15 October 2015, the European Council called for devising ‘technical solutions to reinforce the control of the EU’s external borders to meet both migration and security objectives, without hampering the fluidity of movement’. In its conclusions of 17- 18 December 2015, the European Council urged to address the shortcomings at the external borders, notably by ensuring systematic security checks with relevant databases.
On 16 September 2016, the 27 Heads of State or Government attending the Bratislava Summit adopted the Bratislava declaration and roadmap, in which they called for the intensification of cooperation and information exchange, and urged the ‘adoption of the necessary measures to ensure that all persons, including nationals from EU Member States, crossing the Union’s external borders will be checked against the relevant databases, that must be interconnected’.
The Council also called for ‘reinforc[ing] border security through systematic and coordinated checks against the relevant databases based on risk assessment’, and for ‘improving information exchange and accessibility, especially by ensuring the interoperability of different information systems’ in its conclusions of 10 June 2015 on the renewed European Union internal security strategy 2015-2020.
On 6 June 2016, the Council Presidency put forward a roadmap to enhance information exchange and information management including interoperability solutions in the area of justice and home affairs. In a note on IT measures related to border management, presented on 3 October 2016, the Council Presidency maintained that well-functioning information architecture constituted a prerequisite for effective border management.

Preparation of the proposal

In April 2016, the European Commission adopted a communication on stronger and smarter information systems for borders and security, in which it identified a number of key shortcomings in the existing information systems and explored options on how existing and future information systems could enhance external border management and internal security.
With regard to the SIS, the communication outlined several possible developments: the creation of SIS alerts on irregular migrants subject to return decisions; the use of facial images for biometric identification; the automatised transmission of information on a hit following a check; and the creation of a new alert category on ‘wanted unknown persons’.
In June 2016, the high-level expert group on information systems and interoperability (HLEG) was established to work on a joint strategy to make data management in the EU more effective and efficient. The HLEG is composed of high-level representatives of the Commission, Member States, associated members of the Schengen area (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland), EU agencies (eu-LISA, Frontex, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Europol) and the Counter-terrorism Coordinator.
The Council Secretariat and representatives of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) participate as observers.
The HLEG’s interim report, presented in December 2016, emphasised the need to raise the standards of data quality and data usage, and identified priority options to be considered in promoting information systems interoperability.
The comprehensive evaluation of the SIS II, finalised by the Commission in December 2016, found that, despite the ‘obvious success’ of the system, changes were needed in order to provide a better response to ongoing security and migration challenges.
The report emphasised the need to reinforce the use of the SIS for counter-terrorism purposes, to clarify the situation of children who are under threat of parental abduction, to extend the use of biometric identifiers and to enhance security standards, data quality and the transparency of SIS.
In the preparation of the proposal, the Commission took into account the results of consultations with relevant stakeholders, such as the SISVIS committee, the SIS II supervision coordination group, and the Member States’ national data protection authorities. The Commission did not carry out an impact assessment but relied on the findings of three independent studies.

The changes the proposal would bring

New alerts and checks

The proposal would introduce a new alert category of ‘unknown wanted persons’ who are connected to a crime, for example persons whose fingerprints are found on a weapon used in a crime.
The scope of the existing alert on missing persons would be extended to allow national authorities to issue preventive alerts for children who are at high risk of parental abduction. The proposal would establish an obligation on the Member States to create SIS alerts for cases related to terrorist offences.
A new ‘inquiry check’ would allow authorities to question a person more thoroughly than in the case of a discreet check, in order to gather more information about the person and to decide on whether further action should be taken. This new type of check is intended to support measures to counter terrorism and serious crime. The proposal would further expand the list of objects for which alerts can be issued, to cover, for example, blank official documents, issued identity papers, vehicles, falsified documents and falsified banknotes.

Extended use of biometrics

The proposal would provide for more effective use of existing biometrics, such as facial imaging and fingerprints and introduce new elements of biometric identifiers, such as palm prints and DNA profiles. It would be mandatory to carry out a fingerprint search if the identity of the person cannot be ascertained in any other way. The system would allow for the storage of fingerprints of ‘unknown wanted persons’. DNA profiles could be used in the case of missing persons who need to be placed under protection when fingerprint or palm prints are not available.

Wider access for law enforcement authorities

The proposal would grant access to SIS to national authorities responsible for examining conditions, and taking decisions, relating to entry, stay, and return of third-country nationals on the territory of Member States.
The extension of access to various immigration authorities would enable the consultation of SIS in relation to irregular migrants who have not been checked at a regular border control. Registration authorities for boats and aircraft would receive limited access to SIS to carry out their tasks, provided that they are governmental services. Europol would receive full access rights to SIS, including to alerts on missing persons. The European border and coast guard agency and its teams would be allowed to access SIS when carrying out operations in support of Member States.

Enhanced data protection and security

The proposal would allow to enter more detailed information in alerts, such as whether a person is involved in terrorism-related activities (as defined by Articles 1-4 of Council Framework decision 2002/475/JHA on combating terrorism), details of a person’s identity or travel documents, and other person-related remarks.
It would expand the list of personal data to be entered and processed in SIS for the purpose of dealing with misused identities. It would provide for the recording of the details of data subjects’ personal identification documents and make it possible to categorise missing children according to the circumstances of their disappearance.
The proposal would introduce additional safeguards to ensure that the collection and processing of, and access to, data is limited to what is strictly necessary, in full respect of EU legislation and fundamental rights. It would provide for specific alert-deletion rules and reduce the retention period for object alerts.
According to the proposal, Member States would be prohibited from copying data entered by another Member State into other national data files.
The proposal would establish a uniform set of rules and obligations for end-users (officers on the ground) on how to access and process SIS data in a secure way. In order to ensure proper monitoring of SIS, eu-LISA would be charged with providing daily, monthly and annual statistics on how the system is used.

Budgetary implications

The estimated costs related to the proposal amount to €64.3 million for the 2018-2020 period and would serve to cover, among other things, implementing the changes provided for in the proposed revision of SIS in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. Each Member State would receive a lump sum of €1.2 million to upgrade its national system. The budget would be secured through a re-programming of the smart borders envelope of the Internal Security Fund.

Advisory committees
The advisory committees are not mandatorily consulted on this proposal.

National parliaments
To date, none of the national parliaments has submitted a reasoned opinion on the compatibility of the proposal with the principle of subsidiarity.

Stakeholders’ views
This section aims to provide a flavour of the debate and is not intended to be an exhaustive account of all different views on the proposal. Additional information can be found in related publications listed under EP supporting analysis.
No major stakeholder has issued a position on the Commission’s proposal so far.

Legislative process
The legislative proposal (COM(2016) 883), adopted on 21 December 2016, falls under the ordinary legislative procedure (2016/0409(COD)) and, within the European Parliament, has been assigned to the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). Work in the committee is still at an early stage. In the Council, the working party for Schengen matters is likewise still at an early stage in its examination of the proposal.

EP supporting analysis
– Bakowski, P., Puccio, L., Foreign fighters – Member State responses and EU action, EPRS, March 2016.
– van Ballegooij, W., The cost of non-Schengen: Civil liberties, justice and home affairs aspects, EPRS, September 2016.
– Gatto, A., Carmona, J., European Border and Coast Guard System, EPRS, October 2016.
– Gatto, A., Goudin, P., Niemenen, R., Schengen area: Update and state of play, EPRS, March 2016.
– Malmersjo, G., Remáč, M., Schengen and the management of the EU’s external borders, Implementation appraisal, EPRS, April 2016.
– Voronova, S., Combating terrorism, EPRS, July 2016.

Other sources
Schengen Information System (SIS) in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, European Parliament, Legislative Observatory (OEIL).

Disclaimer and Copyright
The content of this document is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. It is addressed to the Members and staff of the EP for their parliamentary work. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorised, provided the source is acknowledged and the European Parliament is given prior notice and sent a copy.
© European Union, 2017.

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First edition. The EU Legislation in Progress briefings are updated at key stages throughout the legislative procedure.

Relocation of Asylum seekers in the EU

(EP Study on the implementation of the 2015 Council Decisions establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and of Greece)

THE FULL VERSION OF THE STUDY IS ACCESSIBLE HERE   

 Abstract : This study, commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the LIBE Committee, examines the EU’s mechanism of relocation of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other Member States. It examines the scheme in the context of the Dublin System, the hotspot approach, and the EU-Turkey Statement, recommending that asylum seekers’ interests, and rights be duly taken into account, as it is only through their full engagement that relocation will be successful. Relocation can become a system that provides flexibility for Member States and local host communities, as well as accommodating the agency and dignity of asylum seekers. This requires greater cooperation from receiving States, and a clearer role for a single EU legal and institutional framework to organise preference matching and rationalise efforts and resources overall.

 

AUTHOR(S) : Elspeth GUILD, Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels, (Belgium),  Cathryn COSTELLO, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, (UK) Violeta MORENO-LAX, Queen Mary University of London, (UK). With research assistance from: Christina VELENTZA, Democritus University of Thrace, (Greece) Daniela VITIELLO, Roma Tre University, Rome, (Italy) Natascha ZAUN, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, (UK)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Background

In September 2015 the Council adopted two Decisions regarding the relocation of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other Member States (‘the Relocation Decisions’). In total, the number of asylum seekers to be relocated was 160,000, to take place over 24 months from the adoption of the decisions. By 2 February 2017, 18 months into the relocation period, a total of 11,966 asylum seekers had been relocated from the two countries. The largest number of people relocated from Greece went to France (2,414) and from Italy to Germany (700). By any measure, this failure to make relocation work effectively and swiftly from the outset is striking.

The second Relocation Decision included a distribution key based on the following elements: (a) The size of the population (40%), as it reflects the capacity to absorb a certain number of refugees; (b) total GDP (40%), as it reflects the absolute wealth of a country and is thus indicative for the capacity of an economy to absorb and integrate refugees; (c) average number of spontaneous asylum applications and the number of resettled refugees per 1 million inhabitants over the period 2010-2014 (10%), as it reflects the international protection efforts made by Member States in the recent past; and (d) unemployment rate (10%), as an indicator reflecting the capacity to integrate refugees. Member States allocation under this distribution key was supposed to be mandatory with only the possibility for Member States to refuse an applicant on the basis of national security.

Aims

On this basis, the study pursues the following objectives:

  • To describe the development of the relocation scheme in the context of the Common European Asylum System and the movement of third-country national asylum seekers in 2015;
  • To investigate the operation of the relocation scheme(s) established in September 2015, the successes, failures, and practical modalities;
  • To examine the reasons for resistance from several Member States to the relocation scheme;
  • To understand the practices in the relocation schemes that have contributed to satisfactory outcomes for asylum seekers, States and the EU, and those practices that have resulted in unsatisfactory outcomes for all involved;
  • To review the links between relocation and the ‘hotspots approach’ as well as action under the EU-Turkey Statement of 18 March 2016 and their impact on the ground;
  • To unpack the implications of the incorporation of the relocation scheme in the Dublin IV reform through a permanent mechanism of corrective allocation;
  • To formulate concrete proposals to improve and rationalise the workings of relocation within the EU as a stable element of the Common European Asylum System.

Issues and Recommendations  Continue reading

Parliamentary Tracker: European and national parliaments debates on the (third) Reform of the Common European Asylum System (28-02-17)

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NOTA BENE : THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL RECORDING  See the LIBE official page (with background documents – webstreaming) here                   

by Luigi LIMONE (FREE Group trainee)                                                                                                                                                                        

UP TO THE CHALLENGE

Opening remarks by Claude Moraes, Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament :  According to Claude Moraes this meeting was taking place at very crucial moment of the reform which will  be needed to overcome the crisis which erupted at the EU external borders  in 2015 under the mass influx of migrants coming notably from the war zones in Syria and Iraq. Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty it should be now a common parliamentary endeavor to succeed in reforming these sensitive policies.

FIRST SESSION: Challenges related to the Common European Asylum System – Chaired by Claude Moraes, LIBE Committee Chair

a) Intervention of Hon. Carmelo Abela, Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Maltese Presidency Council.  According to Hon. Carmelo Abela, when it comes to asylum, the EU is facing significant challenges like the urgent need to define future approaches for the solution of the migration crisis. The current EU legislative framework does not address the problem as it should do. Several amendments have been proposed by the Commission in order to reform the package on asylum legislation. The December 2016 Council conclusions on solidarity within the Dublin system provided that the EU should create a system built on solidarity, equal responsibility and based on political legitimacy. Discussions on the proposals already started and the Maltese presidency has already done some important efforts, but the road is still long.  The Minister confirmed that the reform was a priority for the Maltese Presidency. For him, the EU and the Maltese Presidency itself are facing significant challenges which should be addressed decisively and conclusively. He stated that the Maltese presidency would make every effort to achieve its objectives. However, it is worth noting that the presidency cannot succeed alone, it needs the help of the national Parliaments in order to create a durable and successful system of asylum.

b) Intervention by Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. Avramopoulos said that the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) remained a key priority of the EU. For this reform to be successful the EU needs to build a constructive dialogue between the Union and the representatives of the national Parliaments. According to him, purely national measures do not bring positive results, since nationalist approaches simply undermine the common strategy the EU wishes to adopt. A true spirit of solidarity and shared responsibility is required in order to: define a functioning system for asylum seekers; protect the EU external borders; dismantle the trafficking system; regulate irregular migration; manage return and readmission; accelerate the relocation process. The EU should face the challenge of the large amount of unaccompanied minors as well, together with the fight against secondary movement and asylum shopping. The renovated CEAS would help strengthen mutual trust among Member States, which is necessary not only for the efficiency of the system but also to provide asylum applicants with dignified treatment. The reform is therefore necessary to obtain a higher degree of harmonisation and greater convergence of measures, as well as an equal repartition of responsibilities among Member States.  The success of this reform depends on the implementation of solidarity mechanisms. A clear, predictable and efficient Dublin system is fundamental for the realization of a Union without internal borders. In this respect, sanctions for non-compliance with the rules are necessary, especially to fight secondary movement. Furthermore, resettlement and relocation should become compulsory for all Member States, especially with regard to unaccompanied minors. Ultimately, Avramopoulos proposed to have a Union resettlement framework for persons in need of international protection, which would enable to eliminate differences among national practices. Member States have to show their political willingness to work together and the EU needs to achieve a common understanding on how the future CEAS should function. This should happen through the support of the Maltese Presidency. It is the time to move on with this proposal and look at the migration phenomenon in a more strategic, comprehensive and positive manner. The sooner migrants and refugees are integrated in the host societies and in the labor markets, the more the Union can take advantage of their inclusion. In order to accomplish these goals, the EU needs the involvement of all stakeholders and EU citizens.

c) Interventions of National Parliaments representatives and of MEPs. Continue reading