(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 “Relocation of Asylum seekers in the EU”

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

3rdReformAsylum280217

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

Parliamentary Tracker : a new episode of the EU-US visa waiver saga…

by Emilio De Capitani

Yesterday March 2nd the European Parliament has adopted a resolution (see below ) by which it has set a deadline to the Commission to adopt a delegated act which will trigger the reciprocity mechanism with the US because it still  does not grant a visa waiver to all the EU citizens. The latest Plenary debate on this subject took place following an oral question on December 14, 2016 (see here  and below the intervention of the LIBE Chairman and of the Commissioner Avramopoulos)

It is worth recalling that Reciprocity  is a basic principle framing the relations between States in the international arena and that in the visa policy domain the EU Member States may no more trigger alone this mechanism since the transfer of visa policies to the  EU 25 years ago with the Treaty of Maastricht.

The main EU legislative text dealing with reciprocity in visa domain is the Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 of 15 March 2001  which has been amended dozen times also in codecision  since the entry into force of the Amsterdam treaty (1999) and the gradual transfer of these policies under the “ordinary” regime.  The problem is that this transfer of competence from the MS to the EU has been recognized by almost all the third States except Canada, and ..the US. However, as far as Canada is concerned Prime Minister Trudeau has just confirmed that  the visa requirement will be lifted for all EU citizens  in December this year.

As far as the US are concerned  the European Commission was notified on April 2014, that  the EU citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania still cannot enter US territory without a visa, while US citizens can travel to all EU countries visa-free.

On the US side the visa issue has still to be settled bilaterally with each EU member state concerned (see the US legal framework here) and to obtain the US visa waiver the Country concerned should give access to a vast amount of confidential information and respect some strict thresholds connected to the return of its nationals. The point is that if the same standards were applied to the EU as a whole the visa waiver would be granted to everyone but for the US the EU is still not yet a valid counterpart because national  passport remain …national (?!). Needless to say this situation make furious the EU member states whose citizens are not granted the visa waiver (see the Polish position here) because they are no more competent in this domain. Their only possibility is to notify the situation to the Commission (as they did on 12 April 2014) so that the Commission can do its best to find in a two years time a positive solution with the third State concerned. According to the EU regulation into force if the situation is not settled the Commission should adopt a delegated act ( to which both Parliament and the Council may object following art 290 of TFEU) suspending the visa waiver for the third Country national for 12 months.

By so doing not only the EU will preserve the equality between its member states (who can no more protect themselves) but will ensure that all the EU citizens enjoy the same protection. The point is that  the Commission should have acted before 12 April 2016 as far as the US and Canada were concerned but almost one year later it has yet to take any legal measure  (see the latest Commission communication here )

Will the Commission obtain from the Trump administration what has been unable to obtain from the previous Bush and Obama administration ? We may have some doubts but the road ahead looks rather bumpy ..

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European Parliament resolution of 2 March 2017 on obligations of the Commission in the field of visa reciprocity in accordance with Article 1(4) of Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 (2016/2986(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–      having regard to Council Regulation (EC) No 539/20011, in particular Article 1(4)

thereof (‘the reciprocity mechanism’),

–      having regard to the Commission communication of 12 April 2016 entitled ‘State of play and the possible ways forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy’ (COM(2016)0221),

–      having regard to the Commission communication of 13 July 2016 entitled ‘State of play and the possible ways forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy (Follow-up of the Communication of 12 April)’ (COM(2016)0481),

–      having regard to the Commission communication of 21 December 2016 entitled ‘State of play and the possible ways forward as regards the situation of non-reciprocity with certain third countries in the area of visa policy (Follow-up to the Communication of 12 April)’ (COM(2016)0816),

–      having regard to Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Articles 80, 265 and 290 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

–      having regard to its debate on ‘Obligations in the field of visa reciprocity’ held on 14 December 2016 in Strasbourg,

–      having regard to the question to the Commission on obligations of the Commission in the field of visa reciprocity in accordance with Article 1(4) of Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 (O-000142/2016 – B8-1820/2016),

–      having regard to the motion for a resolution of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs,

–      having regard to Rules 128(5) and 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A. whereas the criterion of visa reciprocity as one of the criteria guiding the EU’s visa
policy is generally understood to imply that EU citizens should be subject to the same
conditions when travelling to a third country as the nationals of that third country are when travelling to the EU;

B. whereas the purpose of the visa reciprocity mechanism is to achieve such visa
reciprocity; whereas the EU’s visa policy prohibits individual Member States from
introducing a visa requirement for nationals of a third country if this country is listed in Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 (countries whose nationals are exempt from the visa requirement for short stays);

C. whereas the reciprocity mechanism was revised in 2013, with Parliament acting as co-legislator, as it needed to be adapted in the light of the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon and of the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union on secondary legal bases and ‘to provide for a Union response as an act of solidarity, if a third country listed in Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 applies a visa requirement for nationals of at least one Member State’ (Recital 1 of Regulation (EU) No 1289/2013);

D. whereas the reciprocity mechanism sets out a procedure starting with a situation of non-reciprocity with precise timeframes and actions to be taken with a view to ending a situation of non-reciprocity; whereas its inherent logic entails measures of increasing severity vis-à-vis the third country concerned, including ultimately the suspension of the exemption from the visa requirement for all nationals of the third country concerned (‘second phase of application of the reciprocity mechanism’);

E. whereas ‘in order to ensure the adequate involvement of the European Parliament and of the Council in the second phase of application of the reciprocity mechanism, given the particularly sensitive political nature of the suspension of the exemption from the visa requirement for all the nationals of a third country listed in Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 and its horizontal implications for the Member States, the Schengen associated countries and the Union itself, in particular for their external relations and for the overall functioning of the Schengen area, the power to adopt acts in accordance with Article 290 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union [was] delegated to the Commission in respect of certain elements of the reciprocity mechanism’ including the suspension of the exemption from the visa requirement for all nationals of the third country concerned;

F. whereas ‘the European Parliament or the Council may decide to revoke the delegation’ (Article 290(2)(a) TFEU);

G. whereas a delegated act ‘may enter into force only if no objection has been expressed by the European Parliament or the Council within a period set by the legislative act’
(Article 290(2)(b) TFEU);

H. whereas the Commission contested the choice of delegated acts in the second phase of application of the reciprocity mechanism before the Court of Justice of the European Union, and whereas the Court considered however the choice of the legislator to be correct (Case C-88/14);

I. whereas the mechanism thereby clearly assigns obligations and responsibilities to Parliament and the Council and to the Commission in the different phases of the reciprocity mechanism;

  1. Considers the Commission to be legally obliged to adopt a delegated act – temporarily suspending the exemption from the visa requirement for nationals of third countries which have not lifted the visa requirement for citizens of certain Member States – within a period of 24 months from the date of publication of the notifications in this regard, which ended on 12 April 2016;
  2. Calls on the Commission, on the basis of Article 265 TFEU, to adopt the required delegated act within two months from the date of adoption of this resolution at the latest;
  3. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Commission, the European Council, the Council and the national parliaments.

(1) 1 OJ L 81, 21.3.2001, p. 1.

EXCERPT EP DEBATE (December 14) VISA RECIPROCITY

Claude MORAES (author of the Oral Question). – Mr President, (…) We now come to the important oral question, which many colleagues have been waiting for, on the very important, compelling and urgent issue of visa reciprocity. As colleagues will know, this is an ongoing issue of urgency, not just for those five countries and the citizens of those five countries – Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus – but indeed a matter of principle for the whole House on questions of symmetry and equality in our relationship with the United States.

In 2013, Parliament and the Council adopted a regulation modifying, amongst other elements, the so-called reciprocity mechanism. It entered into force in January 2014. Under EU law and according to this mechanism, if a third country does not lift visa requirements 24 months after notification of a situation of non—reciprocity, the Commission is obliged to suspend the visa waiver for citizens of that country for 12 months, via a delegated act to which Parliament and the Council could object.

Notifications of five Member States – and I have named them – were published by the Commission on 12 April 2014. There were at times cases of non—reciprocity also affecting Australia, Japan and Brunei and all of them have now been solved. After 24 months had elapsed, on 12 April 2016, the Commission, instead of presenting the delegated act as we required, decided to publish a communication asking the Council and Parliament for their views. This communication was followed by another communication on 13 July updating the situation and again failing to fulfil the Commission’s obligations.

As Chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, it is my view that the reciprocity mechanism sets out a procedure with precise time frames and actions not subject to discretionality by the Commission. Therefore, the Commission is under an obligation to adopt a delegated act pursuant to Article 1(4)(f) of Regulation 539/2001.

As the Commissioner knows, on 7 June 2016, I sent a letter reminding you, Commissioner, of the legal obligations of the Commission here. On 12 October, during the exchange we had with you in the Civil Liberties Committee, the Commission was again urged to act and all the Members who took the floor made it clear that the Commission does have some more room for manoeuvre. This was our view.

In this context, and with an overwhelming majority, we have in the Civil Liberties Committee adopted the following oral question for answer today: do you share the legal assessment according to which the Commission is obliged to adopt a delegated act – temporarily suspending the exemption from the visa requirement for nationals of third countries which have not lifted the visa requirement for citizens of certain EU Member States – within a period of 24 months from the date of publication of the notifications in this regard, which ended on 12 April 2016? In the event that the Commission agrees with the assessment that it is obliged to adopt a delegated act, by when will the Commission present this delegated act? And finally, if the Commission does not agree, what are the reasons for not agreeing with that assessment?

This issue, as I said at the beginning of my presentation of this oral question, is not just about the deep and very understandable concerns of our colleagues from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus; it is about the idea that we in the EU have the right to expect symmetry and equality with the United States in our relationship. We are right to expect fairness. The right to expect fairness is something that we have transmitted directly to our United States partners and to the State Department in Washington, and we did so respectfully and forcefully

(…)

Commissioner AVRAMOPOULOS : Mr President, honourable Members of the Parliament, let me start by telling you that I welcome the opportunity to discuss this very important matter, being already fully aware of your expectations. In October I discussed this with the members of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE). You will remember that, Mr Moraes. It should be clear that we all share the same objective. Full visa reciprocity is the central principle of our visa policy framework. With the United States and Canada it is a challenging and sensitive issue, and we all hope for tangible progress.

Before responding to the questions, let me start with the good news concerning Canada. As I told you in the past, I used the window of opportunity offered to us, the EU-Canada summit. A series of meetings and discussions were held ahead in order to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement. I took the plane myself to meet in person the Canadian Immigration Minister John McCallum, in order to address the real situation at political and not at technocratic level. We had a very constructive discussion with the minister and we agreed to engage in a political process to address each other’s concerns and make the lifting of visa obligations for Romania and Bulgaria possible. Indeed, and as I had hinted in my meeting with LIBE, Canada took a positive decision in line with the commitment of McCallum in July. At the summit Canada announced its decision to lift in late 2017 the visa requirements for all Bulgarian and Romanian citizens. Moreover, certain categories of Bulgarian and Romanian travellers who visited Canada in the past 10 years, or who currently possess a valid visa issued by the United States, will already become visa-free from 1 May 2017.

We all welcome very much this outcome. It is a strong indication that diplomatic channels and engagement can achieve positive results. On this point, I would like to thank Members of Parliament for their constructive contribution too. We worked in close coordination with Bulgaria and Romania and they played a central role in addressing Canadian concerns. We have to continue this path to ensure that full visa waiver is achieved. The Commission will continue to do its part, in full cooperation with both Member States.

Now the situation with the United States is different. While I continue discussions with our US partners, most recently at the EU-US JHA Ministerial Meeting on 5 December in Washington, there is no progress to report. But I want to assure you that I will keep this issue high on the agenda with the new administration and Congress. I will personally immediately engage in conference with my new counterparts. I call on all of you to give a chance for the political discussion to take place and to explain the mutual obligations, reservations, goals and work to find a solution.

It is very important to understand that the role of Congress is crucial. The visa waiver programme cannot be expanded without Congress, particularly if Member States do not meet the thresholds of US legislation. It seems certain that temporarily suspending the visa waiver for US citizens would immediately lead to a visa requirement imposed on all EU citizens. We are aiming for the opposite, not a reciprocal visa requirement but a reciprocal visa waiver. Let me be very clear. The Commission would not hesitate to adopt the respective acts if that would improve the situation of EU citizens, and lead to the visa waiver for all. At the same time, the Commission has a responsibility to inform you, the co-legislators, about negative consequences on the EU and its citizens from the implementation of our rules.

And this leads me to your questions. There is a regulation that says ‘the Commission shall adopt a delegated act’. But there are also other requirements and obligations to be followed which are difficult to reconcile with this obligation, and which are equally important. The same regulation says that: ‘the Commission shall take into account the consequences of the suspension of the exemption from the visa requirements for the external relations of the Union and its Member States with the third country in question’.

The approach we put forward back in April outlined these adverse consequences. We still consider that the negative impacts we identified, which were not questioned by other institutions and stakeholders, should be taken fully into account. If a visa requirement is reintroduced, it will be difficult to explain to millions of EU citizens travelling to the United States every year that the EU serves their interests and that the EU action was appropriate in this case. Would legal arguments be convincing for thousands of EU citizens that would likely lose their jobs due to the expected decrease of US visitors? I very much doubt it.

A recent study for the World Travel and Tourism Council suggests that suspending the visa waiver would annually lead to a 22% drop in visitors to the European Union, or 5.5 million fewer visitors from the United States and Canada. This will be equal to a loss of EUR 6.8 billion annually, risking the loss of 140 000 jobs in the tourism industry. The most affected Member States will be Italy, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. I am asking the question: can we really afford that loss?

Dear Members of Parliament, we are in a very unpleasant situation, but determined to work to achieve visa-free travel for all EU citizens to the United States, as we managed to do with Canada. Let us work together in this effort

 

 

Today’s Court (non) decision on the (non) EU “deal”(?) with Turkey..

by Luigi LIMONE (*)

eu-turkeystatement-junckertuskturkey-180316

The General Court has declared today that it lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine the actions brought by three asylum seekers against the EU-Turkey statement which was concluded to resolve the EU “migration” crisis.

On 18 March 2016, a statement setting out how the Member States of the EU and Turkey aiming primarily to address the current migration crisis and secondly to combat human trafficking between Turkey and Greece (‘the EU-Turkey statement’) was published, in the form of a press release, on the website shared by the European Council and the Council of the European Union. The main points of that statement are the following:

  1. a) all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey;
  2. b) migrants arriving in the Greek islands will be duly registered and any application for asylum will be processed individually by the Greek authorities in accordance with the Asylum Procedures Directive;
  3. c) migrants not applying for asylum or whose application for asylum has been found to be unfounded or inadmissible will be returned to Turkey;
  4. d) for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the European Union.

Several doubts have already been raised concerning the nature and the classification of the ‘EU-Turkey statement‘. In particular, the legal nature of the agreement with Turkey was debated before the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament following a presentation by the legal service of that institution. The latter has considered that the so called EU-Turkey ‘deal’ is not legally binding but it is just a political catalogue of measures adopted on their own specific legal basis.

While on its side the European Parliament decided to follow its legal service approach by considering that, no matter of what had been negotiated, it remains free to adopt or not the legislative, budgetary and operational measures which can implement the agreement, the European Council was notified on 31 May and 2 June 2016 of three similar applications for annulment lodged before the General of the EU Court of Justice under Article 263 TFEU.

The three applications were directed against the European Council and were asking the Court to annul the ‘EU-Turkey statement’ which had been issued following the meeting of 18 March 2016 of the Members of the European Council and their Turkish counterpart.

On that occasion, the applicants, two Pakistani nationals and an Afghan national, challenged the ‘EU-Turkey’ statement, considering that the statement constitutes an agreement which could produce legal effects adversely affecting the applicants’ rights and interests.

The two Pakistani nationals and an Afghan national, in fact, travelled from Turkey to Greece, where they submitted applications for asylum. In those applications, they stated that, for a variety of reasons, they would risk persecution if they were returned to their respective countries of origin. In view of the possibility, pursuant to the ‘EU-Turkey statement’, that they might be returned to Turkey if their applications for asylum were rejected, those persons decided to bring actions before the General Court of the European Union with a view to challenging the legality of the ‘EU-Turkey statement’.

According to those asylum seekers, that statement is an international agreement which the European Council, as an institution acting in the name of the EU, concluded with the Republic of Turkey. In particular, they claimed that this agreement represented an infringement of the rules of the TFUE (confirmed by the EU Charter of fundamental rights) as well as the procedure for the the conclusion of international agreements by the EU (218 TFEU).

In the orders made today, the General Court has declared that it lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine the actions pursuant to Article 263 TFEU as the EU Member States are not listed in that article . In such orders, the Court recognises , first of all, that there were inaccuracies in the press release of 18 March 2016 regarding the identification of the authors of the ‘EU-Turkey statement’. The press release indicated, firstly, that it was the EU, and not its Member States, which had agreed on the additional action points referred to in that statement and, secondly, that it was the ‘Members of the European Council’ who had met with their Turkish counterpart during the meeting of 18 March 2016 which had given rise to that press release.

Considering that neither the European Council nor any other institution of the EU has decided to conclude an agreement with the Turkish Government on the subject of the migration crisis, the Court has therefore concluded that, in the absence of any act of an institution of the EU, the legality of which it could review under Article 263 TFEU, it lacks jurisdiction to hear and determine the actions brought by the three asylum seekers.

The Court has, in fact, 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 case, 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 and not by the European Council itself. 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.

Even assuming that the Court has no competence to intervene in such a case, the real problem is that apparently the General Court does not object on the fact that all the members of an EU institution can adopt measures falling in the EU competence without being bound by the EU law (procedural and material). This fuzziness  on the legal nature of ‘the EU-Turkey statement’ paves the way on further questions. Do the EU Member States have the power to act in a matter which is already covered by EU measures such as the EU-Turkey readmission agreement? Does this behavior comply with the principle of sincere cooperation between the MS and the EU institutions and notably the European Parliament which will be under the moral obligation to implement measures which it has not approved?  By  following this “creative” path the EU is not trying to introduce a new approach under which readmission agreements will not be more necessary because replaced by other informal agreements, in order to bypass the rules laid down in the EU Treaties for the conclusion of international readmission agreements.

The Joint Way Forward (JWF) declaration on migration issues with Afghanistan and the EU  represents yet another attempt to conclude a readmission agreement, while bypassing the rules laid down in the EU Treaties for the conclusion of international readmission agreements.

The Joint Way Forward 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. More precisely, 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 fulfil 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”.

Actually, the declaration was defined by Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, as ‘an informal agreement’ which is not legally binding and which, as stated in the document, 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”.

Once again, a readmission agreement concluded by the European Commission has been technically presented as a ‘statement’, in order to bypass the European Parliament’s democratic scrutiny and the necessary legal procedures or the conclusion of readmission agreements.

As noted by Tony Bunyan, director of Statewatch, the readmission agreement with Turkey of 18 March 2016 originated in the form of two letters and an informal declaration and the European Union has adopted the same approach with Afghanistan and it will probably do the same with the other countries which have been identified as priority targets of the new Partnership Framework on migration.

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.

The result of these covert negotiations is a continuous ‘discharge of responsibilities’ which has led a non-transparent, grey zone in which the European Commission, under pressure from some Member States, and Germany in particular, appears to have possibility to do whatever it wants, without allowing any debate in the European Parliament and, most importantly, leaving possible human rights violations unchallenged by the elected representatives of the European citizens.

Like for the agreement with Turkey of March 2016, Germany has hardly fought for a rapid adoption of an 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.

However, unlike the case of the EU-Turkey statement, it is clear that the Joint Way Forward declaration is an agreement concluded between the European Union and the government of Afghanistan. As such, the agreement should be subjected to the exercise of the democratic scrutiny by the European Parliament, as provided by EU law regarding the conclusion of readmission agreements with third countries.

Such a non-transparent approach not only prevents from any form of democratic scrutiny but also ignores the concerns of the civil society 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 an effective remedy.

magrittepipe

(*) FREE Group trainee

Terrorisme et droit des réfugiés, des liaisons dangereuses ? Libres propos sur le « Muslim Ban » et la jurisprudence Lounani de la Cour de justice

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED HERE ON 13 FÉVRIER 2017

par  Henri Labayle

Les polémiques entourant l’application de l’Executive Order signé le 25 janvier 2017 par Donald Trump, président des Etats Unis nouvellement élu, interdisant temporairement l’entrée aux Etats-Unis aux ressortissants de sept pays et suspendant le jeu de la protection internationale, ont quitté les colonnes médiatiques pour pénétrer les prétoires. Motivé par le désir de lutter préventivement contre le terrorisme, selon ses auteurs, et par une volonté discriminatoire envers les musulmans, selon ses détracteurs, le texte pose de graves problèmes juridiques.

L’attention qu’on lui porte ne doit pas masquer qu’au même moment, le 31 janvier 2017, la Cour de justice de l’Union prononçait un arrêt important sur les liens qui peuvent être établis entre la nécessité de lutter contre le terrorisme et le dispositif protecteur des réfugiés politiques (CJUE, 31 janvier 2017, Lounani, C-573/16).

Si l’on ajoute à ces épisodes majeurs l’émoi provoqué en Turquie le 26 janvier 2017 par le refus de la Cour suprême grecque d’accepter l’extradition de huit militaires turcs qualifiés eux-aussi de « terroristes », on mesure à quel point les liaisons dangereuses désormais établies au grand jour entre le droit des réfugiés et la lutte contre le terrorisme deviennent monnaie courante et alimentent le débat public, juridique ou pas.

Ce constat mérite un éclairage et suscite une réflexion d’autant plus nécessaire que ces liaisons sont parfois fondées, malheureusement. Depuis le 11 septembre 2001, la lutte contre le terrorisme met en question ouvertement le jeu des règles du droit des réfugiés, à force d’amalgames (I), au risque de fragiliser la protection qui est due à ces réfugiés (II). D’où l’intérêt d’un contrôle attentif du juge, interne comme européen (III).

1. La stigmatisation croissante du droit des réfugiés

Dès le lendemain des attentats du 11 septembre, la brèche s’est ouverte aux yeux de tous. On se souvient en effet qu’en réaction, lors de sa session extraordinaire du 20 septembre, le Conseil « Justice et affaires intérieures » avait immédiatement invité la Commission à examiner le « rapport entre la sauvegarde de la sécurité intérieure et le respect des obligations et instruments internationaux en matière de protection ». A cette insinuation à peine dissimulée, la Commission avait opposé un rappel du droit positif en la matière (COM (2001) 743).

S’il n’était guère envisageable, à l’époque, de remettre sérieusement en question la protection offerte par les règles de l’asile conventionnel, même au vu des attentats du WTC, en revanche, quinze ans plus tard, le contexte a changé. La montée en charge du terrorisme aveugle éclaire différemment l’attitude politique des Etats, sinon des institutions de l’Union, et la tentation des uns ou des autres est grande d’infléchir le droit.

Un nombre grandissant d’affaires, pas toujours contentieuses, ont ainsi fait la démonstration que les deux questions, terrorisme et protection internationale, n’étaient plus aussi étanches que par le passé. La mise à jour de leurs relations a obligé à une réflexion d’ensemble, entamée sans états d’âme par exemple avec l’élargissement des missions de Frontex aux questions sécuritaires. La connexion des deux grands volets de l’Espace de liberté, sécurité justice de l’Union, ceux de la sécurité et de la migration, s’est désormais opérée sans que l’on en ait mesuré exactement les risques et les implications.

Lointaines peuvent sembler à ce titre ces premières interrogations de la fin des années quatre-vingt, lorsque le Conseil d’Etat français autorisa la livraison vers l’Espagne de terroristes basques malgré leurs prétentions au refuge, tout en exigeant la perte de leur statut protecteur. Tout aussi éloignés paraissent les débats relatifs au fait du prince d’un ancien président de la République, se croyant en droit d’accorder le refuge à un ancien terroriste italien, avant que le Conseil d’Etat ne dénie toute portée juridique à cette prétention. Beaucoup plus douloureuses, en revanche, sont des affaires comme celle de l’inspirateur présumé de l’attentat d’Istanbul, Ahmed Tchataïev, auquel l’Autriche accorda le statut de réfugié politique et dont la CEDH avait interdit la livraison à la Russie en 2010. Bien plus parlantes, enfin et parmi d’autres, sont les affaires Nasr et Ghali c. Italieet Abu Qatada c. Royaume Uni, tranchées par la Cour européenne des droits de l’Homme.

Dans la première, à Rome, la « restitution extraordinaire » d’un membre d’un mouvement islamiste considéré comme terroriste, effectuée par des services secrets américains, va ainsi donner l’occasion de constater que l’intéressé, condamné par la justice italienne pour des faits de terrorisme, n’en bénéficiait pas moins du statut de réfugié politique délivré par l’Italie. Dans l’autre affaire, relative à un prêcheur islamiste radical convaincu de liens avec Al Qaida et chantre du terrorisme favori des tabloïds britanniques, il s’avèrera à l’examen que, là encore, les autorités locales lui avaient accordé le statut de réfugié politique.

Que, le plus souvent, le refuge soit accordé en raison du risque de traitements attentatoires aux droits de l’Homme dans l’Etat où ils sont poursuivis laisse cependant les opinions publiques nationales aussi indifférentes à l’explication juridique qu’incrédules devant ce qu’elles interprètent comme une défaillance de la puissance publique. Pire, elles en attribuent la responsabilité à l’intégration européenne.

D’autant que ces brèches dans l’idée, généralement partagée jusqu’alors, selon laquelle les demandeurs de protection internationale sont avant tout des victimes et non des bourreaux se sont notablement s’élargies à la suite des attentats en France et en Belgique.

Les enquêtes judiciaires démontrent en effet que la crise migratoire de l’été 2015 a été utilisée, ponctuellement mais à plusieurs reprises, par les commandos ayant frappé en France pour circuler en toute impunité. Ce dont atteste le rapport annuel 2016 de Frontex sur l’analyse des risques, constatant que deux des responsables des attentats de Paris en novembre avaient utilisé la couverture du flot de réfugiés pour pénétrer illégalement dans l’Union. Pratique identique à celle de suspects d’un attentat avorté à Dusseldorf en 2016, avant que le dossier de l’auteur de l’attentat du marché de Noel de Berlin ne révèle qu’il avait été auparavant demandeur d’asile. L’effet de ces constats est dévastateur pour l’acceptation du droit des réfugiés et sa légitimité.

Aux yeux de l’opinion publique, l’équation terrorisme/réfugiés ou migration s’ancre ainsi progressivement, irrationnellement, comme le constate en vain Gilles de Kerchove, coordonnateur de la lutte contre le terrorisme. Que le Rapporteur spécial du Conseil des droits de l’homme sur la promotion et la protection des droits de l’homme et des libertés fondamentales dans la lutte antiterroriste de l’ONU, Ben Emmerson, s’efforce de faire la démonstration de cette absence de liens ou même que les Etats Unis d’avant Donald Trump aient ouvertement reconnu que les deux questions n’étaient pas liées n’émeut pas davantage.

Une rhétorique nouvelle au sein de l’Union européenne s’en nourrit et prospère. A l’Est notamment, hostile à la fois à l’accueil et au jeu de la solidarité dans la répartition des demandeurs de protection dans l’Union. Le risque terroriste sera ainsi ouvertement évoqué par les dirigeants de plusieurs Etats lors de la crise migratoire, quand leur propre justice ne qualifiera pas de « terroristes » ceux qui franchissent leurs frontières …

Comment ne pas comprendre que cette dérive ait alors inspiré la mise en application du programme de Donald Trump et que son action ait reçu un écho parfois favorable dans certaines capitales ? Du Premier ministre slovaque, Robert Fico, désireux « d’empêcher la création d’une communauté musulmane dans le pays » aux réticences polonaises et au blocage hongrois, tout va concourir dans une partie de l’Union à la chaude approbation du décret du nouveau président américain par son homologue tchèque : « Trump is protecting his country, he’s concerned with the safety of his citizens… the safety of Czech citizens is a priority. Now we have allies in the US ».

En droit, et ce n’est pas le plus simple à manier aux yeux des citoyens de l’Union, il n’en va pas aussi facilement.

2. L’étendue de la protection offerte par le droit des réfugiés

Sous deux angles très différents, l’Union européenne et les Etats Unis d’Amérique viennent d’être confrontés à cette relation délicate qu’il convient d’établir entre les obligations relatives à la protection internationale d’une part, et, d’autre part l’impératif qu’il y a à prévenir et à lutter contre le terrorisme international. Avec une intelligence certaine, la Cour de justice s’emploie ainsi à démontrer que la protection offerte par le droit des réfugiés, celui de Genève comme celui de l’Union, n’est pas sans limites. Balayant toute nuance, l’exécutif américain a choisi au contraire la brutalité.

Les termes du droit international positif sont clairs, posant des interdits autant que des possibilités d’agir (a). Au nom de la prévention du terrorisme et en des termes très politiques, l’Executive order signé par Donald Trump, le 27 janvier 2017 a pourtant défrayé la chronique internationale par son ampleur (b) . A l’opposé, dans une démarche très juridique, la Cour de justice s’est efforcée de démontrer que le cadre existant ne privait pas les Etats de moyens de répondre au terrorisme, le 31 janvier 2017 dans l’affaire Lounani (a).

a) – Le contenu des obligations pesant sur les Etats

L’article 1er F de la Convention de Genève, au respect desquels les Etats Unis d’Amérique comme les Etats membres de l’Union sont tenus, la déclare non applicable « aux personnes dont on aura des raisons sérieuses de penser :

a)  qu’elles ont commis un crime contre la paix, un crime de guerre ou un crime contre l’humanité, au sens des instruments internationaux élaborés pour prévoir des dispositions relatives à ces crimes; 


b)  qu’elles ont commis un crime grave de droit commun en dehors du pays d’accueil avant d’y être admises comme réfugiées ; 


c)  qu’elles se sont rendues coupables d’agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations Unies».

A cela, la jurisprudence de la Cour européenne ajoute ses interdits quant à l’impossibilité de renvoyer un individu, quel qu’il soit, vers une destination où il risquerait d’être soumis à un traitement prohibé par les articles 2 et 3 de la CEDH. Ce qui a permis à la protection dite « subsidiaire » de trouver reconnaissance sans que cela signifie un seul instant une quelconque approbation de la cause défendue.

Deux articles clés de la Convention de Genève, ordonnent ensuite le débat autour de cette « pierre angulaire » du régime juridique applicable aux réfugiés, comme la Cour de justice s’en est fait déjà l’écho (CJUE, 9 novembre 2010, B et D (C‐57/09 et C‐101/09, point 77).

Son article 33, d’abord, interdit à la fois l’expulsion et le refoulement dans son §1er : « aucun des Etats Contractants n’expulsera ou ne refoulera, de quelque manière que ce soit, un réfugié sur les frontières des territoires où sa vie ou sa liberté serait menacée en raison de sa race, de sa religion, de sa nationalité, de son appartenance à un certain groupe social ou de ses opinions politiques ». La force de cette interdiction est soulignée par le fait que, en vertu de l’article 42 du texte, aucune réserve étatique n’est admise à ce sujet.

Certes, en vertu du §2 du même article 33, le bénéfice de cette disposition ne peut être invoqué par un réfugié qu’il y aura des raisons sérieuses de considérer comme un danger pour la sécurité du pays où il se trouve ou qui, ayant été l’objet d’une condamnation définitive pour un crime ou délit particulièrement grave, « constitue une menace pour la communauté dudit pays ».

D’où la confrontation de ces interdits avec les pratiques américaines ou européennes, qu’il s’agisse de prévenir le terrorisme ou de lui répondre.

b) – Droit des réfugiés et prévention du terrorisme

Telle est la motivation avancée par le texte de l’Executive order du 27 janvier 2017. Il ne fait aucun mystère des liens qu’il établit a priori entre terrorisme et immigration irrégulière et son intitulé est sans ambiguïté aucune à l’instant d’expliciter son objectif : « Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States ».

Aussi, indépendamment des questions portant sur la suspension des visas des ressortissants d’un certain nombre de pays tiers, dont sept Etats ciblés au Proche Orient (Irak, Iran, Libye, Somalie, Soudan, Syrie, Yémen), la volonté présidentielle vise-t-elle spécifiquement les étrangers à la recherche d’une protection. Ce que la section 5 du texte exprime en affichant un « Realignment of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for Fiscal Year 2017 ». Celui-ci comporte des mesures clairement contraires aux obligations internationales pesant sur les Etats Unis.

Il procède, en premier lieu, à la suspension du programme d’admission des États -Unis pour les réfugiés (USRAP) pendant 120 jours. Ces quatre mois permettront au Secrétaire d’Etat d’examiner l’état du droit existant, pourtant déjà réputé comme restrictif, et de déterminer les modifications éventuelles des procédures garantissant que l’admission des réfugiés ne constitue pas une menace à la sécurité et le bien-être des Etats-Unis.

Cette suspension est assortie d’une précision chiffrée quant à la capacité d’accueil des USA : leur président « proclaim that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I determine that additional admissions would be in the national interest » (Section 5, d)).

Il y ajoute ensuite des instructions particulièrement problématiques visant à distinguer les « bons » des « mauvais » demandeurs d’asile et à leur donner priorité, notamment à partir de critères religieux : invitation est ainsi faite au Secrétaire d’Etat, en consultation avec son homologue à la Sécurité intérieure, de modifier les pratiques existantes, « to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious- based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality » (Section 5, b)).

Enfin, pour ce qui est des ressortissants syriens qui sont aujourd’hui l’objet d’une préoccupation majeure de la Communauté internationale du point de vue des besoins de protection, le couperet tombe : leur entrée en tant que réfugiés est jugée comme « contraire aux intérêts des Etats Unis » et donc interdite par principe jusqu’à réexamen : « I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest ».

Inversant la logique qui structure le droit humanitaire, celle qui voudrait qu’il profite avant tout à la personne, l’Executive order du 27 janvier reconnaît la possibilité de dérogations discrétionnaires mais bornées par un constat sidérant. Ainsi, une admission dérogatoire peut être envisagée, au cas par cas, si elle est « in the national interest » (sic !!!), et pour des motifs liés notamment à l’existence de persécutions religieuses dont on voit bien à quoi elles réfèrent.

Il est donc difficile de ne pas conclure à un mépris délibéré des obligations internationales des Etats Unis. Cela est à la fois potentiellement avéré pour ce qui est de l’obligation de non-refoulement et tout à fait évident pour ce qui est de l’article 3 de la convention de Genève.

Ce dernier affirme que « les Etats Contractants appliqueront les dispositions de cette Convention aux réfugiés sans discrimination quant à la race, la religion ou le pays d’origine ». Rapidement qualifié par la presse et les opinions publiques comme un « Muslim Ban », le texte du président nouvellement élu est clairement discriminatoire, ce dont son auteur ne faisait guère mystère lors des débats électoraux. On comprend alors la volée internationale de bois vert qui l’a accueilli, d’Angela Merkel au Secrétaire général des Nations Unies et de nombre de ses collaborateurs en matière de droits fondamentaux sans que le HCR, vraisemblablement inquiet pour ses modalités de fonctionnement, ne se signale par une virulence particulière.

Il reste qu’en dehors d’une action étatique improbable devant la Cour de justice, rien ne menace en fait l’unilatéralisme américain en l’espèce. ce dernier n’en serait qu’à ses débuts si l’on en croit la promesse d’un nouvel Executive order relatif à la position des Etats Unis dans les négociations des traités relatifs aux droits de l’Homme…

c) – Exclusion du statut de réfugié et participation à des activités terroristes

La question n’est, malheureusement, pas nouvelle. La Cour de justice a déjà eu à en connaître à propos d’individus convaincus de connivences terroristes avant leur arrivée sur le territoire de l’Union, dans un pays tiers, et désireux soit de conserver soit d’obtenir le statut de réfugié (CJUE, 9 novembre 2010, B et D (C‐57/09 et C‐101/09 précité). Le juge avait eu à cette occasion à interpréter les « clauses d’exclusion » de la protection telles que les définit l’article 12 de la directive 2004/83 dite « qualification ». Elle avait eu aussi à se pencher sur les conséquences à en tirer quant à un titre de séjour, comme l’on en a traité déjà vu ici (CJUE, 24 juin 2015, H.T, C-373/13).

Le 31 janvier, le problème posé était sensiblement différent, à plusieurs égards. Le requérant, Mostafa Lounani, s’était vu reconnaître, en appel et en 2010, la qualité de réfugié par le Conseil belge du contentieux des étrangers, au motif de sa crainte de persécution en cas de retour dans son pays d’origine.

Inscrit sur la liste antiterroriste des Nations Unies depuis 2002, ce ressortissant marocain avait été condamné en 2006 en Belgique à une peine de six ans d’emprisonnement pour « participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste », en l’occurrence un réseau islamique, ceci en tant que membre dirigeant. Il participait en effet à l’activité d’une cellule apportant son soutien logistique à un mouvement terroriste envoyant des « combattants étrangers » en Irak. L’activité terroriste incriminée se situait donc ici sur le territoire de l’Union, à l’inverse de l’affaire B. et D.

Pourtant, le juge national des étrangers estimait que les faits spécifiquement reprochés à M. Lounani ne constituaient pas des infractions terroristes en tant que telles, sa condamnation ayant été prononcée pour son « appartenance » à un groupe terroriste et non pour la commission précise et individualisée d’un acte terroriste. Selon le juge interne, aucun des agissements pour lesquels M. Lounani avait été condamné n’atteignait le degré de gravité requis pour être qualifié d’« agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » au sens de la directive 2004/83, ce pourquoi le juge avait refusé de modifier sa position, malgré une première censure par le Conseil d’Etat.

Plutôt que de poursuivre un bras de fer inutile avec le Conseil du contentieux des étrangers, le Conseil d’Etat belge désirait donc savoir dans quelles conditions un demandeur de protection peut être exclu du statut de réfugié pour des « agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » lorsqu’il a fait l’objet d’une condamnation pénale pour participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste, sans avoir lui-même commis un acte de terrorisme. Il avait donc saisi la Cour de justice à titre préjudiciel sur ce point.

Répondre à cette interrogation impliquait de mobiliser à la fois le droit de l’Union applicable aux réfugiés mais aussi celui relatif au terrorisme et, notamment, la décision-cadre 2002/475 dont l’article 1er liste les « infractions terroristes », le tout à la lumière du droit de Genève. Conclure à la coïncidence de l’article 12 §2 de la directive 2004/83 et de l’article 1er F de la Convention de Genève était donc l’enjeu de l’arrêt rendu le 31 janvier. Une lecture commune des « agissements contraires aux buts et principes des Nations Unies » figurant dans les deux textes aurait ainsi établi une passerelle susceptible de stigmatiser les actes terroristes mais aussi la participation aux activités d’un réseau terroriste.

Le juge a donc été en charge d’opérer les rappels nécessaires au droit, au plan interne américain comme au plan européen.

3. La complémentarité des protections juridictionnelles

Paradoxalement et bien qu’ils aient été saisis dans un contexte qui n’est absolument pas comparable, le juge interne américain et européen ont, à quelques jours près, et la coïncidence est remarquable, parlé le même langage : celui de la légitimité de la défense de l’Etat dans un contexte terroriste, couplée à son caractère démocratique.

a) – la protection offerte par le juge interne

Si elle a défrayé bruyamment la chronique en ce qu’elle a tenu en échec un président nouvellement élu auquel elle infligeait un démenti cinglant, l’intervention du juge fédéral américain est, quasiment pour l‘essentiel, située sur le terrain du droit interne. Elle est, à ce titre, largement approuvée par la doctrine américaine et la presse. Elle n’en est pas moins instructive quant à la haute image que le juge se fait de sa fonction.

L’Etat de Washington et celui de Minnesota ayant eu gain de cause dans un premier temps devant un juge fédéral avec la suspension de l’Executive order, le 3 février 2017, l’appel de Donald Trump formé devant la Cour d’appel de San Francisco était particulièrement attendu, par les observateurs comme par les milliers de personnes touchées par la mesure. Ce dernier a conduit à un débat contentieux centré sur des questions de nature constitutionnelle, tranché par un rejet de l’appel prononcé à l’unanimité (State of Washington, State of Minnesota V. Donald J. Trump No. 17-35105).

L’essentiel de l’enjeu, aux yeux de la quinzaine d’Etats, des 130 entreprises et des 300 professeurs de droit s’étant transformés en « amicus curiae », était moins d’ordre conventionnel que constitutionnel : quel contrôle judiciaire effectuer sur une telle décision de l’exécutif, au risque de transgresser la séparation des pouvoirs comme ce dernier le défendait devant la Cour ?

La réponse unanime de la Cour d’appel est sans détours. Elle renvoie solennellement aux composantes d’un Etat de droit : « there is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy ».

A cet égard, elle devrait calmer les ardeurs des partisans de la poursuite de la querelle devant la Cour suprême : « although our jurisprudence has long counseled deference to the political branches on matters of immigration and national security, neither the Supreme Court nor our court has ever held that courts lack the authority to review executive action in those arenas for compliance with the Constitution. To the contrary, the Supreme Court has repeatedly and explicitly rejected the notion that the political branches have unreviewable authority over immigration or are not subject to the Constitution when policymaking in that context ». En d’autres termes, « it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action ».

La question centrale pour notre propos, celle de la situation contentieuse des demandeurs de protection et de la violation évidente du principe de non-discrimination, a donc été largement évitée, même si elle était lourdement mise en avant par les Etats fédérés et diverses associations.

Néanmoins, conscient de la gravité des enjeux et des conséquences individuelles du texte, le juge d’appel est visiblement préoccupé par la facilité avec laquelle le terrorisme fournit un alibi facile aux gouvernants pour porter atteinte aux principes fondamentaux. S’il se borne à quelques remarques qui font mouche, au point de laisser douter de l’utilité d’un recours au juge constitutionnel, il n’en démonte pas moins ouvertement la crédibilité des arguments avancés pour adopter le « Muslim Ban », multipliant les allusions directes à l’absence de démonstration probante d’une menace terroriste par ses auteurs.

Quant à la discrimination religieuse que niait l’exécutif malgré de nombreux propos publics tenus lors de la campagne électorale, la Cour note l’importance des griefs soulevés par les Etats sur ce terrain constitutionnel : « in light of the sensitive interests involved, the pace of the current emergency proceedings, and our conclusion that the Government has not met its burden of showing likelihood of success on appeal on its arguments with respect to the due process claim, we reserve consideration of these claims until the merits of this appeal have been fully briefed ».

Quant au sérieux de la motivation de l’Executive order, enfin, le juge fédéral est cruel pour son auteur : « the Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States. Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the Executive Order, the Government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all. We disagree, as explained above ».

De façon plus générale, à l’instant de mettre en balance intérêt général et intérêts individuels, « the Government has not shown that a stay is necessary to avoid irreparable injury …. Although we agree that “the Government’s interest in combating terrorism is an urgent objective of the highest order …, the Government has done little more than reiterate that fact. Despite the district court’s and our own repeated invitations to explain the urgent need for the Executive Order to be placed immediately into effect, the Government submitted no evidence to rebut the States’ argument that the district court’s order merely returned the nation temporarily to the position it has occupied for many previous years ».

La coupe est alors pleine : « finally, in evaluating the need for a stay, we must consider the public interest generally… Aspects of the public interest favor both sides, as evidenced by the massive attention this case has garnered at even the most preliminary stages. On the one hand, the public has a powerful interest in national security and in the ability of an elected president to enact policies. And on the other, the public also has an interest in free flow of travel, in avoiding separation of families, and in freedom from discrimination. We need not characterize the public interest more definitely than this; when considered alongside the hardships discussed above, these competing public interests do not justify a stay ».

b) – l’interprétation extensive du juge de l’Union

Incapable de se plier à ses propres décisions de relocalisation des réfugiés, l’Union est encore bien loin de tels débats… Une toute autre logique anime donc la Cour de justice dans l’affaire Lounani où il lui revenait de délimiter le champ d’application de la protection offerte par le statut de réfugié, en cas de lien de son bénéficiaire avec le terrorisme et ceci dans le silence de l’article 1er F de la convention de Genève à propos de la nature de ces liens. Interpréter les dispositions de ce droit de manière à ne pas entraver la lutte nécessaire des Etats contre le terrorisme, tel était le défi à relever et le message à leur adresser.

Lire les clauses d’exclusion du statut de réfugié de la directive 2004/83 de façon étroite, en les calquant sur les infractions terroristes énumérées dans l’article 1er §1 de la décision-cadre 2002/475/JAI était une option. Elle ne permettait pas de saisir la « participation » pour laquelle M. Lounani avait été condamné en Belgique. Au contraire, faire le choix d’interpréter ces clauses d’exclusion à la lumière de la Convention de Genève permettait d’élargir leur champ.

La Cour de justice va retenir cette démarche, le 31 janvier 2017, dans la droite ligne de sa jurisprudence antérieure (CJUE, 9 novembre 2010, B et D, C‐57/09 et C‐101/09, préc.  pt 78 ; CJUE 2 décembre 2014, A e.a., C-148/13 à C‐150/13, point 46). Parce que la directive 2004/83 se réfère expressément dans sa motivation et son article 12 §2 relatif à « l’exclusion » aux « agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies tels qu’ils figurent dans le préambule et aux articles 1er et 2 de la charte des Nations unies », il lui est facile de répondre. Cet article « correspond en substance à l’article 1er, section F, sous c), de la convention de Genève, lequel prévoit que les dispositions de cette convention ne seront pas applicables aux personnes dont on aura des raisons sérieuses de penser qu’elles se sont rendues coupables d’agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies (pt 43).

Le considérant 22 de la même directive renvoyant aux résolutions pertinentes des Nations Unies, il lui est également aisé de déduire de la résolution 1624 (2005) du Conseil de sécurité que les « agissements contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » ne se limitent pas aux « actes, méthodes et pratiques terroristes ». En effet, le Conseil de sécurité y invite les États, pour lutter contre le terrorisme, conformément aux obligations qui leur incombent en vertu du droit international, à priver d’asile et traduire en justice « quiconque prête appui au financement, à l’organisation, à la préparation ou à la commission d’actes de terrorisme, y concourt, y participe ou tente d’y participer, ou donne refuge à leurs auteurs » (pt 47). Postérieure à la décision-cadre 2002/475, la directive 2004/83 n’a donc pas entendu s’y référer et limiter son champ d’application à sa lumière.

Il restait alors à conclure sur le fait de savoir si des actes de « participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste », tels que ceux ayant motivé la condamnation de M. Lounani, pouvaient relever de la cause d’exclusion alors même qu’il n’avait ni commis ni tenté ou menacé de commettre un acte de terrorisme. Ici, la Cour ne se laisse en rien brider par les débats en cours au Parlement européen relatifs à l’adoption de la directive remplaçant la décision-cadre 2002/475 et démontre, quasi-explicitement que le terrorisme ne saurait se réclamer de la protection du droit de l’Union.

Pour la Cour, il est acquis que la clause d’exclusion « ne saurait être limitée aux auteurs effectifs d’actes de terrorisme mais qu’elle peut également s’étendre aux individus qui se livrent à des activités de recrutement, d’organisation, de transport ou d’équipement bénéficiant à des personnes qui se rendent dans un Etat autre que leur Etat de résidence ou de nationalité dans le dessein, notamment, de commettre, d’organiser ou de préparer des actes de terrorisme » (pt 69). Elle estime que « la participation aux activités d’un groupe terroriste peut couvrir un large éventail de comportements d’un degré de gravité variable » (pt 71).

Evaluer l’impact de la condamnation pénale nationale s’avérait alors essentiel ici, d’aucuns estimant qu’elle valait automatiquement exclusion ou, a minima, « présomption réfragable » comme le gouvernement français l’avançait. La Cour a déjà rejeté cette conception dans sa jurisprudence précitée B. et D, relative au seul fait d’appartenance à une organisation terroriste, car les conditions d’exclusion présupposent un examen complet de toutes les circonstances propres à chaque cas individuel. Elle avait ainsi précisé que « l’autorité compétente doit notamment examiner le rôle qu’a effectivement joué la personne concernée dans la perpétration des actes en question, sa position au sein de l’organisation, le degré de connaissance qu’elle avait ou était censée avoir des activités de celle-ci, les éventuelles pressions auxquelles elle aurait été soumise ou d’autres facteurs susceptibles d’influencer son comportement » (pts 87 et 94).

La Cour de justice réitère ici ce point de vue en indiquant que l’exclusion ne peut avoir lieu qu’après « avoir procédé, pour chaque cas individuel, à une évaluation des faits précis dont elle a connaissance en vue de déterminer s’il existe des raisons sérieuses de penser que les actes commis par l’intéressé, qui remplit par ailleurs les critères pour obtenir le statut de réfugié, relèvent de ce cas d’exclusion » (pt 72).

Elle reprend à son compte implicitement à propos du cas Lounani la précision procédurale proposée par son avocat général, à savoir vérifier dans un premier temps si l’organisation en cause est une organisation terroriste avant d’évaluer les faits spécifiques imputés à la personne concernée (appréciation de la structure de l’organisation, de la position de la personne en son sein, de sa capacité à influencer les activités du groupe, de son implication dans la planification, la prise de décision ou la direction d’autres personnes en vue de commettre des actes de terrorisme…). En bref, il s’agit dans son esprit d’éviter la hâte avec laquelle, parfois, la lutte anti-terroriste s’affranchit des garanties procédurales individuelles.

Sur cette base, en l’espèce, sa conclusion est sans appel : « la circonstance, à la supposer établie, que le groupe dont M. Lounani était un membre dirigeant n’aurait pas perpétré d’acte de terrorisme ou que les volontaires souhaitant se rendre en Irak aidés par ce groupe n’auraient finalement pas commis de tels actes n’est, en tout état de cause, pas de nature à exclure que les agissements de M. Lounani puissent être considérés comme contraires aux buts et aux principes des Nations unies » (pt 77). Il n’est donc pas exigé qu’il ait été l’instigateur ou l’acteur de l’infraction pour procéder à son exclusion.

Dans ce contexte, la prise en considération de la décision de justice nationale est particulièrement pertinente, sans pour autant transformer la directive 2004/83 en instrument d’application de la lutte contre le terrorisme en mécanisant l’appréciation de l’Etat. Cette décision « revêt, dans le cadre de l’évaluation individuelle à laquelle doit procéder l’autorité compétente, une importance particulière » mais elle conserve intact en l’état le pouvoir d’évaluation de la situation à l’instant de se prononcer.

Au total, en ce début d’année et à l’inverse de ce qu’il est souvent avancé, le juge interne comme européen révèle ici la richesse de son office, malgré un contexte de crise sécuritaire particulièrement lourd : garantir les intérêts de la défense de la société, dans le cadre démocratique d’une Communauté et d’un Etat de droit. Faut-il vraiment se féliciter que l’actualité lui ait fourni l’occasion de nous le rappeler ?

Continue reading “Terrorisme et droit des réfugiés, des liaisons dangereuses ? Libres propos sur le « Muslim Ban » et la jurisprudence Lounani de la Cour de justice”

Expulsion of seriously ill migrants: a new ECtHR ruling reshapes ECHR and EU law

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Dr Lourdes Peroni*, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Ghent University Human Rights Centre (ECHR aspects) and Professor Steve Peers (EU law aspects)

In what is possibly one of the most important judgments of 2016, Paposhvili v. Belgium, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has memorably reshaped its case law on when Article 3 ECHR (which bans torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment) applies to the expulsion of seriously ill migrants. In a unanimous judgment, the Court leaves behind the restrictive application of the high Article 3 threshold set in N. v. the United Kingdom and pushes for a more rigorous assessment of the risk of ill-treatment in these cases. For us at the Human Rights Centre of Ghent University, it was a thrill to intervene as a third party in such an important case. In our third party intervention we submitted that Paposhvili offered a unique opportunity to depart from the excessively restrictive approach adopted in N. We are delighted that the Grand Chamber has seized the opportunity to re-draw the standards in this area of its case law in a way that does fuller justice to the spirit of Article 3.

This main part of the post addresses the ECtHR’s interpretation of the ECHR in Paposhvili, while in the Annex to this post, Steve Peers considers its application within the scope of EU law.

The ECHR judgment

Mr. Paposhvili, a Georgian national living in Belgium, was seriously ill. He claimed that his expulsion to Georgia would put him at risk of inhuman treatment and an earlier death due to the withdrawal of the treatment he had been receiving in Belgium (for more on the facts, see my previous post). He died in Belgium last June, while his case was pending before the Grand Chamber. The Court did not strike his application out of the list. It found that “special circumstances relating to respect for human rights” required its continued examination based on Article 37 § 1 in fine ECHR (§ 133). The Court held that there would have been a violation of Article 3 if Belgium had expelled Mr. Paposhvili to Georgia without having assessed “the risk faced by him in the light of the information concerning his state of health and the existence of appropriate treatment in Georgia.” It found a similar violation of Article 8 if Belgium had expelled him without having assessed the impact of his return on his “right to respect for his family life in view of his state of health.”

Opening Up “Other Very Exceptional Cases”

The Chamber judgment in Paposhvili followed N. and Yoh-Ekale Mwanje v. Belgium where the Court had taken into account that “the applicants’ condition had been stable as a result of the treatment they had been receiving, that they were not ‘critically ill’ and that they were fit to travel” (§ 119). The Chamber thus concluded that though Mr. Paposhvili suffered from “a fatal and incurable disease … his conditions are all stable and under control at present; his life is therefore not in imminent danger and he is able to travel” (§ 120).

As readers might remember, the N. Grand Chamber established that removing a non-national suffering from a serious illness to “a country where the facilities for the treatment of that illness are inferior to those available in the Contracting State may raise an issue under Article 3, but only in a very exceptional case” (§ 42). The Grand Chamber concluded that the applicant’s circumstances in N. were not exceptional, as found in D. v. United Kingdom (§ 42). D was critically ill, close to death, and had no prospect of medical care and family support in his home country. The N. Grand Chamber, however, left a window open: it did not exclude that “there may be other very exceptional cases where the humanitarian considerations are equally compelling” (§ 43, emphasis added).

In our third party intervention, we argued that being medically stable and fit to travel as a result of the treatment received should not be a determining criterion in allowing an expulsion. We respectfully invited the Court to develop a less extreme approach, one that considered the difference between applicants’ suffering in the sending state and the suffering they would face in the receiving state. The aim, we submitted, should be to determine whether the reduction of applicants’ life expectancy and the deterioration of their quality of life would be such as to reach the level of severity required by Article 3. The applicant argued that his expulsion to Georgia would place him at risk of “a severe and rapid deterioration in his state of health leading to his swift and certain death” (§ 148). He asked the Court “to go beyond its findings in N. v. the United Kingdom” and to define “a realistic threshold of severity that was no longer confined to securing a ‘right to die with dignity’” (§ 149).

The Paposhvili Grand Chamber enters through the window N. left open. It notes that since N. no other “very exceptional cases” had been found (§ 178). It importantly recognizes that the application of Article 3 only to persons close to death has deprived those whose condition was less critical but who were still seriously ill from “the benefit of that provision” (§ 181). In a pivotal paragraph, the Grand Chamber considers

… that the “other very exceptional cases” within the meaning of the judgment in N. v. the United Kingdom (§ 43) which may raise an issue under Article 3 should be understood to refer to situations involving the removal of a seriously ill person in which substantial grounds have been shown for believing that he or she, although not at imminent risk of dying, would face a real risk, on account of the absence of appropriate treatment in the receiving country or the lack of access to such treatment, of being exposed to a serious, rapid and irreversible decline in his or her state of health resulting in intense suffering or to a significant reduction in life expectancy. The Court points out that these situations correspond to a high threshold for the application of Article 3 of the Convention in cases concerning the removal of aliens suffering from serious illness (§ 183). Emphasis added.

This is a graceful move that softens the unduly restrictive approach that had so far been followed in cases concerning the expulsion of seriously ill migrants. Paposhvili thus comes to fill what Judge Lemmens calls a “gap in the protection against inhuman treatment” (concurring opinion in Paposhvili § 3) by including as exceptional more than just cases of imminent death. My first impression is that the Court does not formally leave behind N.’s exceptional character and the high threshold of Article 3 in cases concerning the expulsion of seriously ill non-nationals (see last sentence § 183 and Judge Lemmens’ opinion § 3). Rather, it appears to open up what in practice has resulted in a limited application of the high threshold. The commendable effect of the Court’s move is, in any event, a less extreme approach more compatible with the spirit of Article 3. Elements of both our third party intervention and the applicant’s arguments are reflected positively in the Grand Chamber reasoning in this regard.

Real Rather Than Theoretical Access to “Sufficient” and “Appropriate” Care

In our third party intervention we proposed that the risk assessment should consider the adequacy of the medical care available in the receiving state and the person’s actual access to such care. The question, we argued, is not just whether adequate treatment is generally available but, crucially, whether the available treatment would in reality be accessible to the person concerned. The applicant argued that the alleged Article 3 violation should be examined “in concreto,” taking into consideration, among other things, “the accessibility of treatment in the country of destination” (§ 139).

The Grand Chamber seizes the occasion to meticulously set out a range of procedural duties for the domestic authorities in the ECHR state parties. All these duties point in one clear direction: a more rigorous assessment of the risk as required by the absolute nature of the Article 3 prohibition (Saadi v. Italy § 128). In assessing the alleged risk of ill-treatment, the domestic authorities should verify whether the care available in the receiving state is “sufficient and appropriate in practice for the treatment of the applicant’s illness so as to prevent him or her being exposed to treatment contrary to Article 3” (§ 189, emphasis added). The domestic authorities should also consider “the extent to which the individual in question will actually have access to this care and these facilities in the receiving State” (§ 190, emphasis added). Referring to existing case law, the Court points to several factors to be taken into account: “cost of medication and treatment, the existence of a social and family network, and the distance to be travelled in order to have access to the required care” (§ 190).

Duty to Obtain Assurances from the Receiving State

With reference to Tarakhel (a 2014 ECtHR ruling on the application of the EU’s Dublin rules on allocation of asylum responsibility), our third party intervention proposed that Article 3 impose on the domestic authorities in the returning state the procedural duty to seek or obtain assurances from the receiving state that the person concerned would actually have access to the treatment s/he needed. We argued that access to appropriate medical care should not be a theoretical option, but a real and guaranteed one, and the burden of proving that such a real option exists should lie on the expelling state (on assurances and the benefits of adopting this path, see Eva Brems’ commentary on Tatar v. Switzerland).

On this point, the Grand Chamber states in paragraph 191:

Where, after the relevant information has been examined, serious doubts persist regarding the impact of removal on the persons concerned – on account of the general situation in the receiving country and/or their individual situation – the returning State must obtain individual and sufficient assurances from the receiving State, as a precondition for removal, that appropriate treatment will be available and accessible to the persons concerned so that they do not find themselves in a situation contrary to Article 3 (on the subject of individual assurances, see Tarakhel, cited above, § 120).

Conclusion

There is so much more to say about the Court’s reasoning in Paposhvili. I have highlighted some of its most remarkable Article 3 principles. Together with others, such as the one establishing when the responsibility of the returning state is engaged (§ 192), these principles firmly move a body of the Court’s case law closer to its principles on the absolute nature of the Article 3 prohibition.

*This part of the post is reblogged  from the Strasbourg Observers blog

Annex: the impact on EU law

By Professor Steve Peers

How does this judgment impact upon EU law?

First of all, it’s necessary to explain the existing EU law position, set in the Abdida and M’Bodj judgments of the ECJ, which was referred to in the ECtHR judgment (paras 120-22), and which I discussed further here. In short, ‘medical cases’ are not within the scope of EU asylum law, either as regards refugee status or subsidiary protection (M’Bodj). However, if the person concerned faces an expulsion order, then the Returns Directive applies. (Note that the latter Directive doesn’t apply to the UK, Ireland or Denmark.)

Although the Returns Directive was mainly intended to ensure removal of irregular migrants from the territory, in ‘medical cases’ (at least), as interpreted by the ECJ in Abdida, it has the opposite effect. According to the Court, the requirement in Article 5 of the Directive to ‘respect the principle of’ non-refoulement means that irregular migrants who fall outside the scope of EU asylum law but nevertheless face an Article 3 ECHR risk, as defined in the case law of the ECtHR, cannot be removed. Moreover, in further displays of legal alchemy, the ECJ ruled that the challenge to their removal must have suspensive effect, and they must receive the necessary health care and social benefits.

The ECJ has not developed this case law since, although further relevant cases are pending. In MP, the Court has been asked to clarify the line between asylum cases and medical cases, where the medical conditions are more directly linked to persecution or serious harm suffered in the country of origin. In Gnandi, it has been asked to clarify the suspensive effect of a legal challenge in medical cases, following a failed asylum application. In K.A. and others, the Court has been asked about the requirement to ‘take due account’ of family life in Article 5 of the Returns Directive; its ultimate ruling might be relevant to the ‘non-refoulement’ aspect of the same clause by analogy. Equally in Nianga the Court has been asked whether Article 5 applies to the decision to issue a return decision or removal order in the first place: a crucial point because if it does not apply, the person concerned might well fall outside the scope of EU law entirely.

What impact will the new ECtHR ruling have on the interpretation of EU law? First of all, there’s nothing to suggest it will, by itself, move the dividing line between asylum cases and medical cases, as applied by the ECJ. So we are still looking at the interpretation of the Returns Directive, if that Directive applies.

Since the ECJ committed itself to follow the case-law of the ECtHR as regards medical cases when interpreting the non-refoulement provision of the Returns Directive, it should follow that the new ECtHR ruling applies to the Directive too. Therefore this enlarges the group of people who can benefit from the specific provisions of EU law as interpreted by the ECJ, as regards suspensive effect of appeals and access to health care and social benefits.

Equally the ECtHR’s strong stress on the procedural elements of such cases logically applies by analogy to cases falling within the scope of the Returns Directive. While the ECJ in the Abdida judgment did not refer to its own jurisprudence on the right to a hearing for irregular migrants (discussed here), it is now necessary to update that approach in light of the ECtHR ruling, given the strong link which the latter judgment establishes between the procedural and substantive aspects of what I have referred to as ‘alternative protection’. The ECJ will have an opportunity to address this issue in the months to come, in the pending cases referred to above.

While the ECtHR judgment referred to a need to cooperate with the country of origin in order to check conditions there, in the EU context this might arguably in some cases entail by analogy a check on health conditions in another Member State, which would be responsible for that person under the Dublin rules. The ECJ has yet to determine how its interpretation of the Returns Directive in medical cases fits together with the application of the Dublin rules, which in principle apply if the person concerned has at one point applied for international protection (refugee status or subsidiary protection) within the EU. (Mr. Paposhvili was originally subject to the Dublin rules, but it seems that the plan to remove him to Italy pursuant to those rules petered out).

Finally, it should be noted that the ECtHR also found a breach of Article 8 ECHR (the right to family life), on similar procedural grounds. This might be relevant to interpretation of the EU’s family reunion Directive, for those who fall within the scope of that Directive and who argue on the basis of the factors to consider during expulsion proceedings pursuant to Articles 17 and 18 of that law.

La modification discrète du Code Frontières Schengen par le règlement 2016/1624 relatif au corps européen de garde-frontières: comblement d’une lacune ?

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON ODYSSEUS NETWORK BLOG  (17/11/16)

By Nuno Piçarra, Universidade Nova de Lisboa & European University Institute.

 

Le Conseil des ministres a adopté le 11 novembre 2016 une nouvelle décisionpermettant à cinq Etats Schengen de prolonger pour trois mois supplémentaires des contrôles aux frontières intérieures en cas de circonstances exceptionnelles. Cette décision faisant suite à celle du 12 mai 2016 qui avait autorisé ces contrôles pour six mois pose question au regard d’une modification de sa base juridique, à savoir, l’article 29 du Code Frontières Schengen (CFS, règlement 2016/399 du 9 mars 2016). En effet, le paragraphe 1er de cet article a été modifié récemment par l’article 80 du règlement 2016/1624 du 14 septembre 2016 relatif au corps européen de garde-frontières et de garde-côtes.

L’article 29 CFS qui établit une procédure spécifique de réintroduction temporaire du contrôle aux frontières intérieures « en cas de circonstances exceptionnelles mettant en péril le fonctionnement global de l’espace sans contrôles aux frontières intérieures » a été, avant sa modification, la base légale de la décision d’exécution 2016/894 du 12 mai 2016. Par cette décision, le Conseil a, après avoir imputé à la Grèce des manquements graves persistants liés au contrôle de ses frontières extérieures mettant en péril le fonctionnement global de l’espace Schengen, recommandé à l’Autriche, à l’Allemagne, au Danemark, à la Suède et à la Norvège de maintenir des contrôles à certaines de leurs frontières intérieures pour une durée maximale de six mois à compter du 12 mai 2016. Conformément à l’article 29 CFS, le Conseil ne peut pas recommander aux autres État membres de réintroduire temporairement le contrôle aux frontières intérieures sans imputer de tels manquements à au moins un État Schengen. Les doutes concernant la légalité de cette décision ont déjà été examinés dans ce blog (Nuno Piçarra, « Rétablissement des contrôles… »).

Dans sa version initiale, l’article 29, paragraphe 1er, comportait une lacune que la crise de l’asile a rendue manifeste. En effet, s’agissant, pour le Conseil, de recommander « en dernier recours » « à un ou plusieurs États membres de décider de réintroduire le contrôle à toutes leurs frontières intérieures ou sur des tronçons spécifiques de celles-ci », la disposition en question ne faisait pas de distinction entre, d’une part, les « manquements graves persistants dans l’exécution du contrôle aux frontières extérieures », susceptibles d’être prévenus et évités par le biais d’une « diligence moyenne » de la part de l’État concerné et, d’autre part, les manquements qui, ne pouvant pas être contrôlés par un État en raison de la spécificité et de la disproportion de la pression migratoire à ses frontières extérieures, s’apparentent à de la force majeure. Cela ne préjuge pas de la question différente – et préalable – de savoir si, dans une telle hypothèse, compte tenu de ses obligations en matière de protection internationale « notamment en ce qui concerne le non-refoulement », l’État concerné devrait, ou non, appliquer les règles du CFS dont la violation est considérée comme constitutive de tels manquements.

En bref, selon la version antérieure de l’article 29, paragraphe 1er, de tels manquements, quelle qu’en fût la cause, permettaient au Conseil de recommander aux États Schengen de réintroduire temporairement les contrôles aux frontières intérieures. Une fois appliquée, une telle recommandation pouvait, à la limite, impliquer la suspension de l’État concerné de « l’espace sans contrôle aux frontières intérieures ».

L’article 80 du règlement 2016/1624 a introduit dans le paragraphe 1er de l’article 29 CFS deux nouveaux fondements pour le déclenchement de la « procédure spécifique » que cette disposition prévoit. Ces fondements s’ajoutent aux « manquements graves persistants liés au contrôle aux frontières extérieures visés à l’article 21 » CFS. La présente contribution commence par identifier ces deux nouveaux fondements (1), en les soumettant à une appréciation critique afin de savoir s’ils comblent la lacune détectée dans la version antérieure de l’article 29, paragraphe 1er (2). In fine, elle répondra à la question de savoir si, au cas où la nouvelle version de l’article 29, paragraphe 1er, aurait déjà été en vigueur le 12 mai 2016, la décision d’exécution du Conseil aurait pu avoir le même contenu à l’égard de la Grèce (3).

1. Les nouveaux fondements pour la réintroduction temporaire du contrôle aux frontières intérieures conformément à l’article 29 CFS

Le nouveau paragraphe 1er de l’article 29 CFS renvoie à l’article 19 (« Situation aux frontières extérieures nécessitant une action urgente »), paragraphe 1er sous a) et b), du règlement 2016/1624.

Le premier fondement sous a) vise l’État Schengen qui, à la suite d’une évaluation considérant que ses frontières sont vulnérables, ne se conforme pas à une décision du Conseil définissant les mesures qui doivent être mises en œuvre d’urgence par l’Agence européenne de garde-frontières et ne coopère pas avec celle-ci. Une telle décision est adoptée parce que l’État concerné n’a pas pris auparavant les mesures nécessaires conformément à une décision de l’Agence et a rendu le contrôle aux frontières extérieures « à ce point inefficace que le fonctionnement de l’espace Schengen risque d’être compromis ». Les mesures définies par le Conseil sont donc des « mesures d’atténuation de ces risques » provoqués par l’État concerné.

Le second fondement sous b) pour que le contrôle aux frontières intérieures puisse être réintroduit conformément à l’article 29 CFS vise l’État membre « confronté à des défis spécifiques et disproportionnés aux frontières extérieures » qui ne se conforme pas à une décision du Conseil définissant les mesures qui doivent être mises en œuvre par l’Agence et ne coopère pas avec celle-ci. Une telle décision est adoptée parce que l’État concerné soit (i) n’a pas demandé un appui suffisant à l’Agence (lancement d’opérations conjointes et d’interventions rapides aux frontières extérieures ou création d’équipes d’appui à la gestion des flux migratoires), soit (ii) tout en ayant demandé cet appui, « ne fait pas le nécessaire pour mettre en œuvre les mesures prévues ». Ces comportements de l’État concerné étant susceptibles de rendre « le contrôle aux frontières extérieures à ce point inefficace que le fonctionnement de l’espace Schengen risque d’être compromis », les mesures définies par le Conseil constituent des « mesures d’atténuation de ces risques ».

Les deux catégories de décisions du Conseil prises en vertu de l’article 19, paragraphe 1er, du règlement 2016/1624 doivent constituer « une réponse unifiée, rapide et efficace au niveau de l’UE » (considérant n° 28 de ce règlement). Les mesures que le Conseil peut définir en vue d’atténuer la mise en péril du fonctionnement global de l’espace Schengen sont énoncées au paragraphe 2 de l’article 19 : (i) organisation et coordination des interventions rapides aux frontières et déploiement des équipes européennes de garde-frontières et de garde-côtes, issues de la réserve de réaction rapide, ainsi que des équipes européennes de garde-frontières et de garde-côtes supplémentaires, le cas échéant ; (ii) déploiement des équipes de garde-frontières et de garde-côtes dans le cadre des équipes d’appui à la gestion des flux migratoires dans les « zones d’urgence migratoire » (hotspot areas); (iii) coordination des activités pour un ou plusieurs États membres et pays tiers aux frontières extérieures, y compris des opérations conjointes avec des pays tiers voisins ; (iv) déploiement d’équipes techniques ; (v) organisation des interventions en matière de retour.

Conformément au paragraphe 3, c’est au directeur exécutif de l’Agence qu’il revient de (i) déterminer les mesures devant être prises pour l’exécution de la décision du Conseil et (ii) en accord avec l’État concerné, établir un plan opérationnel et le lui transmettre. L’Agence doit déployer sans retard, et en tout état de cause dans un délai de cinq jours ouvrables à partir de l’établissement du plan opérationnel, les équipements techniques nécessaires et le personnel nécessaire, issu de la réserve de réaction rapide.

Enfin, si l’État concerné ne se conforme pas, dans un délai de trente jours, aux décisions du Conseil prises en vertu de l’article 19, paragraphe 1er et ne coopèrent pas avec l’Agence, la Commission peut déclencher la procédure prévue à l’article 29 CFS.

2. Appréciation critique du nouvel article 29, paragraphe 1er, CFS

Les deux nouveaux fondements prévus à l’article 29, paragraphe 1er, CFS ont en commun le fait qu’ils présupposent des situations de vulnérabilité aux frontières extérieures des États concernés qui sont susceptibles de les empêcher d’appliquer le CFS sans un appui de l’UE et en particulier de l’Agence. Dans le premier cas, cette vulnérabilité est constatée à la suite d’une évaluation effectuée en vertu del’article 13 du règlement 2016/1624 relatif au corps européen de garde-frontières. Dans le second, la vulnérabilité est la conséquence du fait que l’État concerné est « confronté à des défis spécifiques et disproportionnés aux frontières extérieures», selon l’expression introduite par l’article 19, paragraphe 1er, sous b), du même règlement.

La fausse neutralité du mot « défi » surprend, d’autant plus que le 1erconsidérant du règlement 2016/1624 se réfère expressément soit à des « flux migratoires sans précédent vers le territoire de l’Union », soit à des « flux croissants de migration mixte ». Quoi qu’il en soit, l’introduction d’un concept identifiant aux frontières extérieures des situations qui échappent au contrôle d’un État, voire relèvent de la force majeure et exigent une action urgente de l’Agence, est susceptible de combler la lacune détectée et doit donc être saluée.

Dans l’hypothèse prévue au paragraphe 1er, sous a), de l’article 19 du règlement 2016/1624, l’intervention de l’Agence ne peut avoir lieu qu’après la constatation d’une triple défaillance de la part de l’État concerné : (i) dans un premier temps, ses équipements techniques, systèmes, moyens, ressources, infrastructures et personnel qualifié, nécessaires pour le contrôle aux frontières extérieures, ont été jugés insuffisants à la suite d’une évaluation de l’Agence concluant à une situation de vulnérabilité ; (ii) dans un deuxième temps, l’État concerné ne s’est pas conformé à une recommandation du directeur exécutif de l’Agence énumérant les mesures correctives nécessaires pour éliminer les vulnérabilités détectées ; (iii)dans un troisième temps, l’État concerné ne s’est pas conformé à la décision de l’Agence énumérant les mesures correctives.

Ce dispositif passe toutefois sous silence la question importante de savoir si l’État concerné est objectivement à même de prendre les mesures correctives qui sont exigées de lui à la suite de l’évaluation de l’Agence, ou, en amont, s’il était objectivement à même de se doter de l’équipement, du personnel et des ressources nécessaires, compte tenu notamment de la dimension de ses frontières extérieures et/ou de sa situation géographique. Une telle omission ne constitue pas forcément une négligence coupable de l’État défaillant. Elle peut en effet renvoyer à une impossibilité objective, en particulier en cas de « défis spécifiques et disproportionnés à ses frontières extérieures », rendant indispensable une intervention de l’Agence à ce stade.

Ce n’est que dans un quatrième temps que l’Agence doit intervenir moyennant une décision du Conseil qui définit son mandat. L’intervention a pour but de remédier aux défaillances de l’État concerné susceptibles de compromettre le fonctionnement de l’espace Schengen. Dès lors que le paragraphe 10 de l’article 19 du règlement 2016/1624 envisage ouvertement l’hypothèse que l’État concerné ne se conforme pas à la décision du Conseil et donc décide de ne pas coopérer avec l’Agence, il est logique que, dans une telle hypothèse, le Conseil puisse recommander aux autres États Schengen de réintroduire le contrôle aux frontières intérieures avec l’État concerné, conformément à l’article 29 CFS.

Le second nouveau fondement pour déclencher la procédure spécifique de l’article 29 CFS est marqué par une présence plus immédiate de l’Agence, à laquelle tout État Schengen « confronté à un défi spécifique et disproportionné à ses frontières extérieures » doit demander le plus tôt possible des mesures d’appui suffisant (lancement d’opérations conjointes et d’interventions rapides aux frontières extérieures ou création d’équipes d’appui à la gestion des flux migratoires).

Par définition, un État est « confronté à des défis spécifiques et disproportionnés à ses frontières extérieures » lorsqu’il n’est pas à même d’y faire face sans l’appui de l’Agence. Dans cette hypothèse, le but de l’intervention de l’Agence est précisément d’éviter que l’État concerné n’atteigne une situation où le contrôle aux frontières extérieures est rendu à ce point inefficace que le fonctionnement de l’espace Schengen risque d’être compromis. Toutefois, s’agissant d’entreprendre les actions nécessaires pour l’exécution pratique des mesures d’appui adoptées par l’Agence, on ne saurait exclure de prime abord une situation où l’État concerné se trouverait dans l’impossibilité objective de le faire.

Pour toutes ces raisons et à l’instar de ce qui a été conclu à propos du premier fondement sous a) de l’article 19, paragraphe 1er, si le règlement 2016/1624 envisage expressément l’hypothèse que l’État concerné décide de ne pas se conformer à la décision du Conseil et de ne pas coopérer avec l’Agence (article 19, paragraphe 10), il est logique que le Conseil puisse également recommander aux autres États Schengen de réintroduire le contrôle aux frontières intérieures avec l’État concerné, conformément à l’article 29 CFS.

C’est précisément ici qui se trouve la raison pour laquelle la modification de l’article 29, paragraphe 1er, CFS introduite par l’article 80 du règlement 2016/1624 n’était pas comprise dans la proposition de la Commission du 15 décembre 2015 (COM(2015) 671).

En effet, dans l’économie de cette proposition, ni l’article 12 (« évaluation de la vulnérabilité »), ni l’article 18 (« situation aux frontières extérieures nécessitant une action urgente ») n’envisageaient la possibilité qu’un État Schengen décide de ne pas se conformer à la décision du directeur exécutif de l’Agence « exposant les mesures correctives nécessaires », qualifiées de contraignantes, ou à la décision de la Commission définissant les mesures à mettre en œuvre par l’Agence si un État ne prend pas ces mesures « en cas de pression migratoire disproportionnée aux frontières extérieures, rendant le contrôle aux frontières extérieures à ce point inefficace que le fonctionnement de l’espace Schengen risque d’être compromis ». Selon l’article 18, paragraphe 6, de la proposition de la Commission, l’État concerné « se conforme à la décision de la Commission et, à cet effet, coopère immédiatement avec l’Agence et prend les mesures nécessaires pour faciliter la mise en œuvre de ladite décision et l’exécution pratique des mesures exposées dans ladite décision et dans le plan opérationnel convenu avec le directeur exécutif ». Ce plan exigeait, toutefois, l’accord de l’État concerné, ce qui entravait le droit d’intervention de l’Agence (v. Jorrit Rijpma « The Proposal for a European Border and Coast Guard: evolution or revolution in external border management? », study for the LIBE Committee, 2016, p.18).

Quoi qu’il en soit, la proposition de la Commission impliquait que l’Etat membre ne se conformant pas à cette décision tombe notamment sous le coup de la procédure en manquement. A cette solution « supranationale », le Conseil et le Parlement ont préféré la solution plutôt « intergouvernementale » du nouvel paragraphe 1er de l’article 29 CFS.

Enfin, l’examen complet du second nouveau fondement sous b) de l’article 19 du règlement 2016/1624 visant le déclenchement de la procédure de l’article 29 CFS exige sa délimitation vis-à-vis du fondement relatif aux « manquements graves persistants liés au contrôle aux frontières extérieures visés à l’article 21 » CFS. Une telle délimitation pourrait s’avérer difficile de prime abord. En effet, ainsi que le démontre le cas de la Grèce, l’article 29 CFS, dans sa version antérieure, lui a été appliqué lorsque cet État Schengen se trouvait manifestement « confronté à des défis spécifiques et disproportionnés à ses frontières extérieures », pour utiliser l’expression de l’article 19, paragraphe 1er , sous b), du règlement 2016/1624.

Il ne s’ensuit pourtant pas que le nouveau fondement ait un effet de consomption sur le seul que prévoyait l’article 29 CFS avant d’être modifié par le règlement 2016/1624. Dans sa nouvelle version, les manquements graves persistants dans l’exécution du contrôle aux frontières extérieures devraient se circonscrire à ceux susceptibles d’être objectivement évités par une action diligente de la part de l’État concerné agissant seul, c’est-à-dire aux manquements indépendants des « défis spécifiques et disproportionnés aux frontières extérieures ».

Le nouveau paragraphe 1er de l’article 29 CFS peut certes être considéré comme un « signe concret de solidarité envers la Grèce, en contribuant à une solution de la crise à ses frontières extérieures à court terme », par le biais d’une intervention décisive de l’Agence à laquelle la Grèce n’aurait en principe aucun intérêt à s’opposer. Il s’agit toutefois d’une solution temporaire, dès lors que les instruments que l’Agence peut mobiliser à cette fin sont conçus comme temporaires par le règlement 2016/1624 (v. Philippe De Bruycker, « The European Border and Coast Guard : A new model built on an old logic »,European Papers, vol. 1, 2016, No 2, p. 567).

3. La décision d’exécution 2016/894 du 12 mai 2016 au regard du nouvel article 29, paragraphe 1er, CFS

Le constat qui vient d’être établi mène à la question de savoir si, au cas où le nouvel article 29, paragraphe 1er, CFS eût été en vigueur le 12 mai 2016, ladécision d’exécution 2016/894 recommandant à cinq États Schengen de maintenir le contrôle aux frontières intérieures, aurait pu avoir le même contenu à l’égard de la Grèce. La réponse est assurément négative.

En effet, la Grèce étant manifestement « confrontée à des défis spécifiques et disproportionnés aux frontières extérieures », le seule reproche qui pourrait, le cas échéant, lui être adressé en vertu du nouveau paragraphe 1er de l’article 29 CFS devrait forcément se référer au fait que cet État ne se serait pas conformé à une décision du Conseil adoptée en vertu de l’article 19, paragraphe 1, sous b), du règlement 2016/1624. Selon cette dernière disposition, le premier reproche susceptible d’être formulé à un État Schengen « confronté à des défis spécifiques et disproportionnés à ses frontières extérieures » est l’absence de demande de mesures d’appui à l’Agence.

Or, dans le cas d’espèce, il est constant que la Grèce a demandé le 3 décembre 2015 à Frontex le déploiement d’une assistance opérationnelle rapide sous la forme d’équipes européennes de gardes-frontières et d’équipement. Cette demande a été approuvée le 10 décembre et les opérations ont eu lieu entre le 28 décembre et le 26 mars 2016 (voyez la décision d’exécution de la Commission du 24 février 2016 arrêtant une recommandation sur les mesures spécifiques à prendre en République hellénique – C(2016)1219, considérant nº 8). Toutefois, selon la Commission elle-même, Frontex “a demandé aux États membres de fournir 743 agents invités pour travailler à la frontière extérieure de la Grèce alors qu’à ce jour, seuls 447 d’entre eux ont été envoyés” (voy. COM(2015) 673, final, p. 6). Res ipsa loquitur quant à la mesure de la solidarité manifestée envers la Grèce par l’ensemble de ses partenaires Schengen…

Par conséquent, il faudrait constater que la Grèce n’avait pas fait le nécessaire pour mettre en œuvre les mesures d’appui demandées à l’Agence, rendant le contrôle aux frontières extérieures à ce point inefficace que le fonctionnement de l’espace Schengen risquerait d’être compromis, pour que le Conseil puisse adopter une décision sur la base de l’article 19, paragraphe 1er, recensant les mesures nécessaires et exigeant la coopération de la Grèce. Une fois cette décision adoptée, il faudrait alors prouver que la Grèce ne s’y est pas conformée, n’ayant pas coopéré avec l’Agence, pour que finalement la Commission puisse déclencher la procédure de l’article 29 exclusivement basée sur le fait que la Grèce ne s’est pas conformée à une décision du Conseil prise en vertu de l’article 19, paragraphe 1, sous b), du règlement 2016/1624.

Pour toutes ces raisons, dans le cadre du nouveau paragraphe 1er de l’article 29 CFS, il semble impossible d’imputer à la Grèce manifestement confrontée à des « défis spécifiques et disproportionnés à ses frontières extérieures », au sens de l’article 19, paragraphe 1er, sous b), du règlement 2016/1624, des manquements graves persistants liés au contrôle de ses frontières. Cela signifie que le Conseil n’aurait pas pu  recommander le maintien du contrôle aux frontières intérieures au-delà du 12 mai 2016.

Toutefois, ainsi qu’il a été signalé au début, le Conseil vient d’adopter  le 11 novembre une nouvelle décision d’exécution recommandant aux mêmes cinq États Schengen de prolonger le contrôle à certaines frontières intérieures pendant une durée maximale de trois mois. Le fait qu’il a basé cette proposition sur l’article 29 CFS tout en faisant table rase de la modification dont le paragraphe 1er a fait l’objet alors que celle-ci s’avère d’une importance certaine dans ce contexte, ne peut que susciter la perplexité…

Continue reading “La modification discrète du Code Frontières Schengen par le règlement 2016/1624 relatif au corps européen de garde-frontières: comblement d’une lacune ?”

Human & humanitarian smugglers: Europe’s scapegoat in the ‘refugee crisis’

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON EU LAW ANALYSIS

by Rachel Landry, Fellow for Refugee Policy, Center on National Security, Fordham Law School

In the middle of one night in January 2016, Salam Aldeen received what had now become a routine call regarding boats in distress off of the coast of Greece. Since co-founding Team Humanity, a volunteer rescue organisation, in September 2015, Aldeen had responded to distress calls from approximately 200 boats with a total of approximately 10,000 refugees on board. As per protocol, Aldeen informed the Greek coast guard that he was going out in search of the boats. Yet on this particular evening, Aldeen and the four other volunteer lifeguards with him never reached the refugees in need of rescue.

When a military ship came threateningly close to their rescue boat, they altered course and headed back to shore. Before they reached land, two military vessels and the Greek coast guard surrounded them, ultimately arresting them and confiscating their boat. Their alleged crime: human smuggling. Their actions: attempting to fulfil the widely acknowledged duty to rescue at sea. Aldeen was released from prison after paying a significant fee, but is unable to leave Greece and is required to check in weekly with the Greek authorities. He awaits trial and faces up to ten years in prison.

The arrest of Aldeen and the four volunteers is far from unique. Deeply entangled within the EU’s robust fight against human smuggling in the current ‘refugee crisis’ is the threat of criminalisation of a range of humanitarian acts, which should not be punished but rather praised. The European Commission (EC) has rhetorically acknowledged the importance of ‘avoiding risks of criminalisation of those who provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in distress’, yet the actions of individual Member States suggest otherwise.

The EC is scheduled to release a proposal by the end of 2016 to ‘improve the existing EU legal framework to tackle migrant smuggling’. As such, it has been reviewing Council Directive 2002/90/EC of 28 November 2002 defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence (Facilitation Directive), legislation that governs human smuggling in addition to other acts facilitating the transit and stay of irregular migrants. Given the much-needed review of the Facilitation Directive and the current strategy to combat abhorrent and ‘humanitarian’ acts of smuggling alike, it is a critical moment to reflect upon the moral quality and complexities of human smuggling.

I offer five observations as a preliminary framework for considering the deficiencies in the Facilitation Directive and where the boundary between blameworthy acts of smuggling and blameless acts of ‘humanitarian smuggling’ should be drawn. These observations stem from my recently published research through the Refugee Studies Centre, The ‘humanitarian smuggling’ of refugees: Criminal offence or moral obligation?

  1.       Combatting human smuggling and all humanitarian acts construed as such are in service of the larger goals of deterring and securitising irregular migration.

The EU is employing all possible tactics to deter refugees and migrants from attempting to reach its Member States’ shores – from the United Nations Security Council Resolution permitting EU security forces to intercept vessels suspected of human smuggling off the coast of Libya, to the deployment of NATO warships in the Aegean Sea, to the EU-Turkey deal to send those arriving irregularly back to Turkey. These policies of deterrence and securitisation are neither ad hoc nor unprecedented. Rather, they are integral to EU law governing irregular migrants and those who assist them.

Notably, the Facilitation Directive is first and foremost concerned with deterring irregular migration. As the first paragraph of the Directive states: ‘[o]ne of the objectives of the European Union is the gradual creation of an area of freedom, security, and justice, which means, inter alia, that illegal immigration must be combatted’. Prohibiting the facilitation of irregular entry is merely one means to combat irregular migration. As Spena argues, ‘[p]aradoxical as it may seem, in the Facilitation Directive’s approach, smuggling, as a form of facilitation, is only wrongful in an ancillary way, as if it was only a form of complicity in the real wrong which is the wrong of irregular migration’. The focus on deterring irregular migration produces a disregard for the smuggled migrants themselves, highlighted by the fact that the Directive does not define its relationship to international human rights or refugee law.

  1.     The Facilitation Directive, as transposed into national law, permits the criminalisation of genuinely humanitarian acts.  

The infringements set out in the Facilitation Directive mirror its expansive intent to sanction, most regularly through criminal law, a wide range of activities that may support irregular migration. Article 1.1.a stipulates that Member States:

shall adopt appropriate sanctions on: any person who intentionally assists a person who is not a national of a Member State to enter, or transit across, the territory of a Member State in breach of the laws of the State concerned on the entry or transit of aliens.  

Article 1.2 includes an optional ‘humanitarian clause’, which applies only to Article 1.1a such that ‘[a]ny Member State may decide not to impose sanctions…where the aim of the behaviour is to provide humanitarian assistance to the person concerned’.

The majority of Member States have transposed Article 1.1a expansively, permitting the criminalisation of a broad range of individuals facilitating irregular entry – from members of smuggling rings putting refugees in deliberate danger to volunteers rescuing refugees in peril at sea. The optional humanitarian exemption ultimately permits the criminalisation of what seems to be a limitless spectrum of activity at the national level, failing to enable subjects to orientate their behaviour accordingly and even prohibiting ethically defensible, if not praiseworthy, acts like those of Aldeen. According to a 2014 report by the Fundamental Rights Agency, the optional ‘humanitarian clause’ has been explicitly transposed in a variety of forms at the national level in only eight Member States.

  1.        The historic example of the rescue of the Danish Jews during World War II clearly illustrates, with the benefit of hindsight, the moral necessity and praiseworthiness of certain acts of smuggling.

The current ‘refugee crisis’ is regularly referred to as the largest crisis since World War II. Equally, international cooperation to resettle refugees in the aftermath of WWII is frequently invoked as a response that should be emulated today. Less frequently invoked, however, are those ‘humanitarian smugglers’known today simply as heroes – who rescued Jews from persecution long before the international community stepped in.

In 1943, 95% of the Jewish population in Denmark was able to escape deportation to concentration camps, in large part due to the collective action of fellow citizens and the Danish resistance movement. When the Nazi regime formalised the order to deport Danish Jews to concentration camps in September 1943, within two weeks Danes mobilised to successfully smuggle more than 7,200 Danish Jews and 680 non-Jewish family members to safety in Sweden, predominantly by way of Danish fishermen.

Those individuals who effectively evacuated almost the entire Jewish population out of Denmark not only made an assessment of the likely consequences and certainty of the impending harm for the Danish Jews if they did not act, but also accepted significant risks to their own lives as a result of their actions. If caught by the Nazis, those who aided and abetted Jews faced criminalisation and even possibly execution. The heroic rescue of the Danish Jews from impending deportation to concentration camp is but one reminder of the historical continuity, praiseworthiness, and unfortunate necessity of ‘humanitarian smuggling’.

  1.     The drafters of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) considered including a safeguard against penalisation for individuals assisting refugees to cross borders irregularly on humanitarian grounds.

Under certain circumstances, Article 31 of the Refugee Convention provides that presumptive refugees may cross borders irregularly and nevertheless be exempt from punishment. The drafters recognised that given the unique and vulnerable predicament of refugees, a refugee may have no choice but to cross borders irregularly and should not be penalised for doing so.

In light of the expansive scope of the Facilitation Directive and the threatened criminalisation of humanitarians like Aldeen, it may come as a surprise that some of the drafters – in particular the Swiss government – recognised that safeguards should exist not only for refugees, but also their rescuers. According to the French representative, organisations assisting refugees to reach safety were engaging in ‘an obvious humanitarian duty’. The French government was nevertheless opposed to modifying the language of Article 31, fearing it would encourage refugee organisations to become ‘organisations for the illegal crossing of frontiers’. Similarly, the United States representative acknowledged that the failure to include a safeguard for those proving humanitarian assistance to refugees irregularly crossing borders might be ‘a possible oversight in the drafting of the article’. Yet, the United States government did not support including protections for those providing assistance.

There is, of course, no safeguard for ‘humanitarian smugglers’ in the Refugee Convention. Yet, there was a recognition that governments should not – and a false assumption that they would not – criminalise those assisting refugees for humanitarian reasons.

  1.     The November 2015 landmark Supreme Court of Canada case, R. v. Appulonappa, may set a legal precedent for a more narrowly drafted smuggling offence in the Facilitation Directive to decriminalise ‘humanitarian smugglers’.

The November 2015 Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) case, R v. Appulonappa, sets a legal precedent for a narrower smuggling prohibition. The SCC ruled that its law criminalising smuggling, S. 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, was overbroad and should be ‘read down…as not applying to persons providing humanitarian aid to asylum-seekers or to asylum-seekers who provide each other mutual aid (including aid to family members)’. S. 117 is not dissimilar to Article 1.1 of the Facilitation Directive in that it theoretically criminalises anyone who facilitates irregular entry, regardless of motive or the means by which the act is carried out.

The SCC ruled that S. 117 exceeded its legislative intent of criminalising organised crime: ‘[a] broad punitive goal that would prosecute persons with no connection to and no furtherance of organised crime is not consistent with Parliament’s purpose’. Possible amendments to S. 117 may serve as a model for a more narrowly drafted prohibition that more accurately delineates between blameless and blameworthy acts of smuggling.

Conclusion

These five observations offer entry points into the moral complexities of human smuggling and the legal imperative of decriminalising humanitarian acts of the facilitation of irregular entry. Ultimately, if the EC intends to provide recommendations to amend the Facilitation Directive that reflect the need to avoid criminalising humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants, it will first need to more narrowly and clearly define acts of the facilitation of irregular entry worthy of criminalisation. The EC’s challenge lies with the fact that the primary purpose of the Facilitation Directive is to deter irregular migration and a narrower directive would ultimately undermine this objective.

In the current crisis, human smugglers – and all individuals deemed as such – have become Europe’s scapegoat. Targeting human smugglers worthy of criminalisation and those ‘humanitarian smugglers’ worthy of praise is Europe’s Band-Aid solution to a problem that can only be solved through safe and legal pathways for refugees to reach Europe.

 

‘I Travel, therefore I Am a Suspect’: an overview of the EU PNR Directive

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED ON  EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy BLOG

By Niovi Vavoula, Queen Mary University of London

According to the PNR (Passenger Name Record) Directive 2016/681 of 27 April2016, a series of everyday data of all air passengers (third-country nationals but also EU citizens, including those on intra-Schengen flights) will soon be transferred to specialised units to be analysed in order to identify persons of interest in relation to terrorist offences and other serious crimes. This new instrument raises once again fundamental rights challenges posed by its future operation, particularly in relation to privacy and citizenship rights. Therefore, the story of the PNR Directive, as described below, is probably not finished as such concerns open up the possibility of a future involvement of the Court of Justice.

1. The story behind the EU PNR System

In the aftermath of 9/11 and under the direct influence of how the terrorist attacks took place, the US legislature established inextricable links between the movement of passengers, ‘border security’ and the effective fight against international terrorism. Strong emphasis was placed on prevention through pre-screening of passengers, cross-checking against national databases and identification of suspicious behaviours through dubious profiling techniques. At the heart of this pre-emptive logic has been the adoption of legislation obliging airlines flying into the US to provide their domestic authorities with a wide range of everyday data on their passengers. These so-called PNR data constitute records of each passenger’s travel arrangements and contain the information necessary for air carriers to manage flight reservations and check-in systems. Under this umbrella definition, a broad array of data may be included: from information on name, passport, means of payment, travel arrangements and contact details to dietary requirements and requests for special assistance. Amidst concerns regarding the compliance of such mechanisms with EU privacy and data protection standards, this model was internalized at EU level through the conclusion of three PNR Agreements with the US – one in 2004, which wasstruck down by the CJEU in 2006, and others in 2007 and 2012. In addition, PNR Agreements with Canada (currently awaiting litigation before the CJEU) andAustralia have also been adopted.

The idea of developing a similar system to process EU air travel data had been on the agenda for almost a decade, particularly since the EU-US PNR Agreements contain reciprocity clauses referring to the possibility of the EU developing such systems. The first proposal for a Framework Decision dates back to 2007. However, no agreement was reached until the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. A revised proposal was released in 2011, essentially mimicking the EU-US PNR model, at least as regards the types of data to be processed and the focus on assessing the risks attached to passengers as a mean of preventing terrorist attacks or other serious crimes. In comparison to the proposed Framework Decision it constituted an improvement (for instance, it provided for a reduced retention period and prohibited the processing of sensitive data), yet it was met with great scepticism by a number of EU actors, including the European Data Protection Supervisor, the Fundamental Rights Agency and the Article 29 Working Party who argued that it failed to respect the principles of necessity and proportionality. Eventually, the proposal was rejected by the European Parliament on fundamental rights grounds, but the voting was postponed and the proposal was transferred back to the LIBE Committee.

The EU PNR project was brought back to life after the Charlie Hebdo events in January 2015. In the extraordinary JHA Council meeting of 20 November, immediately after the Paris terrorist attacks, the Council reiteratedthe urgency and priority to finalise an ambitious EU PNR before the end of 2015’. Indeed, on 4 December 2015 a compromise text was agreed. A few days later, the Council confirmed the agreement, but the Parliament did not give its blessing until April 2016, presumably in the light of the negotiations on the Data Protection legislative reforms, which were running in parallel. The fact that the legality of the EU-Canada PNR Agreement was disputed did not affect the course of the negotiations.

2. The EU PNR Directive in a nutshell

The EU PNR Directive places a duty on airline carriers operating international flights between the EU and third countries to forward PNR data of all passengers (as set out in Annex 1) to the Passenger Information Unit (PIU) established at domestic level for this purpose (Article 4). According to Article 2 of the Directive, Member States are given the discretion to extend the regime set out in the Directive to intra-EU flights, or to a selection of them (for a discussion see Council Documents 8016/11 and 9103/11, partly accessible). Perhaps unsurprisingly, all participating Member States have declared their intention to make use of their discretion.

Once transmitted, the data will be stored and analysed by the PIU. The purpose of this is to ‘identify persons who were previously unsuspected of involvement in terrorism or serious crime’ and require further examination by the competent authorities in relation to the offences listed in Annex II of the Directive. Contrary to the Commission’s assertions that PNR data will be used in different ways – reactively, pro-actively and in real-time – the focus on prevention is central. The analysis entails a risk assessment of all passengers prior to their travel on the basis of predetermined criteria to be decided by the respective PIU and possibly involving cross-checking with existing blacklists (Article 6(3)).

Furthermore, the PIUs will respond to requests by national authorities to access the data on a case-by-case basis and subject to sufficient indication (Article 6(2(b)). Nevertheless, processing should not take place on the basis of sensitive data revealing race, ethnic origin, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, trade union membership, health or sexual orientation etc. (Recital 20). According to Article 12, the initial retention period is six months, after which PNR data will be depersonalised, meaning that the PIU is entrusted with the task of masking out the names, address and contact information, payment information, frequent flyer information, general remarks and all API data. This process should not be confused with anonymisation, as the data could be re-identifiable and may still be used for criminal law purposes under ‘very strict and limited conditions’ (Recital 25). Therefore, upon expiry of the six-month retention period, disclosure of the full PNR data is permitted if so approved by a judicial authority or another national authority competent to review whether the conditions have been met and subject to information and ex post review by the Data Protection Officer of the PIU (Articles 12(3) and 5).

3. Privacy and surveillance of movement

The challenges that the development of the EU PNR system poses to the protection of privacy and data protection rights are acute. In essence, as with thePNR Agreements, the Directive allows the systematic, blanket and indiscriminate transfer, storage and further processing of a wide range of personal data of millions of travellers from and to the EU. Drawing from Digital Rights Ireland and the recent opinion of AG Mengozzi on the EU-Canada PNR Agreement, the interference with the rights to privacy (Article 7 EUCFR and 8 ECHR) and data protection (Article 8 EUCFR) is particularly serious. On the basis of the data collected, which include biographic information, credit card details and contact information, law enforcement authorities shall be able to compile a rather complete profile of travellers’ private lives.

The involvement of the private sector in the fight against terrorism and serious crime is considerably extended, particularly if one takes into account that the obligations on air carriers are extended to non-carrier economic operators (e.g. travel agencies). In addition, the inclusion of intra-EU flights within the scope of the Directive significantly expands the reach of surveillance. Indeed, back in 2011, it was noted that intra-EU flights represent the majority of EU flights (42%) followed by international flights (36%), and only 22% of flights operate within a single Member State (Council Document 8016/11). In this framework, the movement of the vast majority of travellers, including EU citizens, is placed under constant monitoring, irrespective of the fact that they are a priori innocent and not suspected of any criminal offence. In fact, the operation of the PNR scheme signifies the reversal of the presumption of innocence, whereby everyone is deemed as a potential security risk, thus necessitating their examination in order to confirm or rebut this presumption. Besides, there is no differentiation between flights transporting persons at risk and others.

Furthermore, the risk assessment will take place in a highly obscure manner, particularly since the Directive fails to prescribe comprehensively and in detail how the data will be analysed. The underlying rationale is the profiling of all passengers and the identifying of behavioural patterns in a probabilistic logic, but nowhere in the Directive it is indicated that this is indeed the case. This lack of clarity raises concerns considering that the recently adopted Data Protection Directive includes a definition of profiling (Article 3(4)). Moreover, it is stated that ‘relevant databases’ may be consulted, however, it is not clear which these are. For instance, a possible examination on a routine basis of the databases storing asylum seekers’ fingerprints’ or visa applicants’ data (Eurodac and VIS respectively) will frustrate their legal framework, resulting in a domino effect of multiple function creeps. It may even grow the appetite for Member States to desire the systematic processing of EU nationals’ personal data in centralised databases in the name of a more ‘efficient’ fight against terrorism.

This ambiguous modus operandi of PIUs may even call into question the extent to which the interference with privacy is ‘in accordance with law’ (Article 8(2) ECHR) or in EU terms ‘provided for by law’ (Article 52(1) EU Charter). According to settled case law of the ECtHR, every piece of legislation should meet the requirements of accessibility and foreseeability as to its effects (Rotaru v Romania). The lack of clear rules as to how the processing of data will take place may suggest that travellers cannot foresee the full extent of the legislation.

Another contested issue is the ambiguous definitions of terrorism and serious crimes at EU level. The offences falling under the remits of terrorism are currently revised, which had led to criticism for lack of clarity, whereas the definition of serious offences (acts punishable by a custodial sentence or detention order of a maximum period of three years or longer) constitutes a relatively low threshold, particularly in those Member States where domestic criminal law allows for potentially long custodial sentences for minor crimes. In addition, as regards the conditions of access by national competent authorities, the requirement that the request must be based on ‘sufficient indication’ seems to falls short of the criteria established in Digital Rights Ireland. The threshold is particularly low and may lead to generalised consultation by law enforcement authorities, whereas it is uncertain who will check that there is indeed sufficient indication. As for the offences covered by the scope of the Directive, although Annex II sets out a list in this regard, PNR data could still be used for other offences, including minor ones, when these are detected in the course of enforcement action further to the initial processing.

Moreover, in relation to the period for which the data will be retained, it appears that the EU institutions by no means have a clear understanding of what constitutes a proportionate retention period. For instance, the 2007 proposal envisaged an extensive retention period of five years, after which time the data would be depersonalised and kept for another eight years, whereas the 2011 proposal prescribed a significantly reduced initial retention period of 30 days, after which the data would be anonymised and kept for a further period of five years. In its General Approach (Council Document 14740/15), the Council called for an extension of the initial retention period to two years, followed by another three years of storage for depersonalised data. A more privacy-friendly approach can be found in an Opinion of the Council Legal Service dating from 2011, according to which the data of passengers in risky flights would be initially retained for 30 days and then be held for an overall period of six months (Council Document 8850/11in German). Some Member States supported a retention period of less than 30 days (Council Document 11392/11). Although it is welcomed that there are two sets of deadlines and, more importantly, that re-personalisation may take place only under limited circumstances. However, there is no indication of why the chosen retention periods are proportionate. Furthermore, an approach suggesting a differentiation between flights at risk or not at risk, with different retention periods, seems more balanced.

4. Free movement and citizenship concerns

In addition to the privacy challenges highlighted above, another point of concern is whether the processing of PNR data, including on intra-EU flights, could infringe free movement enjoyed by EU citizens. In this respect, the Commission Legal Service found that the EU PNR does not obstruct free movement (see Council Document 8230/11, which is partially available to the public, although the outcome of the opinion is attested in Council Document 8016/11). Nonetheless, the Parliament managed to include a reference that any assessments on the basis of PNR data shall not jeopardise the right of entry to the territory of the Member States concerned (in Article 4). The extent to which this reference is sufficient is doubtful.

According to Article 21 of the Schengen Borders Code, police controls performed in the territory of a Member State are allowed insofar as they do not have the equivalent effect of border control. Such an effect is precluded when, inter alia, the checks are carried out on the basis of spot-checks. In Melki, the CJEU found that ‘controls on board an international train or on a toll motorway’ limiting their application to the border region ‘might (…) constitute evidence of the existence of such an equivalent effect’ (para 72). By analogy, the focus on controls at the border area to the systematic manner set out in the directive, could have the equivalent effect of a border check. The lack of any differentiation between flights at risk or not at risk (an approach that was also favoured by the Council Legal Service, Council Document 8850/11) and the fact that member States are left entirely free to determine the extent to which they monitor flights to and from other Member States could enhance the risk of falling into the category of controls with an equivalent effect to border control.

5. Conclusion

The EU PNR Directive is yet another example of how the counter-terrorism rhetoric outweighs serious fundamental rights concerns in the name of ensuring security. The storyline is well-known: after a terrorist attack, numerous ideas – either incorporated in legislative proposals that have stalled or which were ultimately too ambitious and controversial to be presented in the first place – feature on the EU agenda. The EU PNR initiative was buried due to privacy concerns and was brought back from the dead when the circumstances matured. Soon national law enforcement authorities will put their hand into the passengers’ data jar and will deploy their surveillance techniques on an unprecedented and unpredictable scale.

By internalising US standards, the EU puts the privacy of individuals under threat. The new instrument does no longer target third-country nationals only, but also EU citizens, thus marking the end of an era where instruments were used ‘solely’ on foreigners. Undoubtedly, there is a strong ‘momentum’ for justifying mass surveillance practices. In waiting for the ruling on the EU-Canada PNR Agreement, as well as the ruling on Tele2 Sverige (following up on Digital Rights Ireland), one can only hope that the CJEU will uphold its inspiring reasoning and reiterate the important limits placed on deploying surveillance practices, by giving proper weight to the fundamental right to the protection of personal data.