Legislative Tracker : the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)

by Beatrice FRAGASSO (Free-Group Trainee)

The European Commission, on 16 November 2016, has put forward a proposal (COM(2016) 731, 16.11.2016, 2016/0357(COD)) establishing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) and amending Regulation (EU) (EU) 2016/399 (the ‘Schengen Borders Code’), (EU) 2016/794 and (EU) 2016/1624.

This proposal is being negotiated as part of the Smart Border Package and aims to ensure a high level of internal security and free movement of persons in the Schengen area. The Commission didn’t conduct an impact assessment but published a feasibility study on ETIAS, conducted between June and October 2016.

The system designed by the proposal would require also visa-exempt travellers to undergo a risk assessment with respect to security, irregular migration and public health risks prior to their arrival at the Schengen borders. This assessment would be carried out by means of cross- checking applicant’s data submitted through ETIAS system against other EU information systems, a dedicated ETIAS watch list and screening rules. This process will result in granting or denying an automated authorization for entering the EU.

Further information from the European Parliament Research Service are available HERE

The current situation
Currently, both visa-obliged and visa-exempt travelers are subject to border controls when entering the Schengen area. According to Regulation (EU) 2016/399, both categories of travelers need to comply with the conditions for short-term stay, which include not being a threat to public order and security, holding valid travel documents, justifying the purpose and conditions of the intended stay, not being the subject of any alert in the SIS for the purpose of refusing entry, and having sufficient means of subsistence.

For visa holders the compliance with this conditions is assessed at the time on the request for a visa  and relevant data are stored in visa information system (VIS) which can be consulted by law enforcement authorities for the purposes of combatting serious crime and terrorism.

However, no such advance information can be currently obtained for visa-exempt nationals arriving at the Schengen external borders. This means that border guards need to decide on allowing or refusing access to the Schengen area without prior knowledge regarding any security, migration or public-health risks associated with visa exempt travelers.

This is particularly true for visa-exempt travelers arriving by land, as the only source of information about them is their travel document presented at the time of crossing the EU external border.

The situation is different for passengers arriving by air as Council Directive 2004/82/EC obliges carriers to communicate all passenger data, known as ‘advance passenger information’ (API), including name, date of birth, passport number and nationality at the time of the check-in for inbound flights to the EU. Another Directive (EU) 2016/681 on the use of passenger name record data (the ‘PNR Directive’) collect 19 types of personal data already at the time of the flight reservation and obliges airlines to hand over to EU MS authorities their passengers’ data linked with the travel reservation (which includes travel dates, travel itinerary, ticket information, frequent flyer data,  contact details, baggage information, credit card and general remarks stored in the Airline files).

For visa-exempt passengers arriving on foot or by car, bus or train, no such comparable advance information is available prior to their arrival.

The changes the proposal would bring

Schengen Border Checks
Prior to arriving in the Schengen area, all carriers will verify if visa-exempt third-country nationals have a valid ETIAS travel authorization, without which boarding will not be authorized. A valid ETIAS travel authorization, should be obtained in advance of arrival at a Schengen border crossing point, and this will be a precondition for entering the Schengen area. However, border guards at the external Schengen borders will still take the final decision to grant or refuse entry according to the Schengen Borders Code.

Online application
As it is currently the case for visa-exempt travelers to Canada “ETA”,  USA “ESTA”  and Australia “ETA” who have to ask for a travel authorization also travelers wanting enter the Schengen area will have to fill in an online application by providing their biographical and passport data, contact details, information on intended travel, and answers to background questions relating to public health risks, criminal records, presence in war zones and previous refusals of entry or an order to leave the territory of a Member State.

At the same time, an application fee of €5, which will go to the EU budget, will be mandatory for all applicants above the age of 18 before their application can be processed.

Processing of applications
The automated processing will be carried out by the central system, which will be in charge of checking data provided by applicants against security databases, such as the VIS, Europol data, the SIS, Eurodac, the  Interpol SLTD database , the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS) and the planned future EU “Entry-Exit” system (currently negotiated between the EP and the Council). Personal Data will also be screened against a ETIAS “watch list” (where people suspected to have committed, or be likely to commit a criminal offence will be listed by the EU MS) and against specific risk indicators (irregular migration, security or public- health risks) which will be defined in consultation with an ETIAS screening board.

In the case of a positive hit after the automatic processing, that personal application will be further assessed manually by operators in the ETIAS central unit and in the national units.
In case no risks has been detected a positive response, in a form of a travel authorisation valid for five years (or until the expiry of the passport) will be delivered. In the case of a refusal, a justification will be given and applicants will have the right to appeal.

Authorisation will be revoked or annulled when the conditions for its issuance are no longer met, particularly when it is believed that it was fraudulently obtained or when a new alert for refusal of entry is created in the SIS.

Etias structure
ETIAS will consist of an information system, a central unit and national units.

The information system will be designed for processing applications and will be interoperable with other security databases that ETIAS will be connected. The new system will be managed by the European Agency for the operational management of large-scale information systems in the area of freedom, security and justice (eu-LISA).

The central unit will be part of Frontex (the European Border and Coast Guard Agency) and will ensure that the data stored in the application files and the data recorded in ETIAS are correct and up to date. Where necessary, it will also verify travel authorisation applications whenever there are doubts regarding the identity of an applicant in cases where the latter’s data produced a match (a ‘hit’) against the stored data during automated processing.
The national units will be responsible for making the risk assessment and deciding on travel authorisation for applications rejected by the automated application process. They will also issue opinions when consulted by other national units, and act as a national access point for requests for access to the ETIAS data for law enforcement purposes related to terrorist and other serious criminal offences.

The role of Europol
Europol will be involved in ETIAS in several ways.
Firstly, Europol’s data related to criminal offences, convictions or potential threats will be compared to those provided by applicants for an ETIAS authorization.
Secondly, Europol will help define ETIAS screening rules by participating in the ETIAS screening board and managing the ETIAS watch list.
Thirdly, Europol will be consulted by the ETIAS national units in case of a match with Europol data during the ETIAS automated processing.
And finally, Europol will be able to consult personal data in the ETIAS central system for the prevention, detection or investigation of terrorist offences or other serious criminal offences (as provided by its mandate).

The Council’s position
In a  document om March 17, 2017 authored  by the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU and covering also the other legislative pending measures connected to ETIAS, a number of compromises are suggested: The Presidency identified other key issues that needed to be clarified and decided upon before revised text proposals could be submitted to delegations. The Presidency therefore prepared a discussion paper on which delegations were invited to comment. The issues outlined by the Presidency related to the division of competences between Frontex and the Member States, the definition of ‘responsible Member State’ as regards the decision to grant a travel authorisation, and the duration of a travel authorization […] With respect to the definition of the ‘responsible Member State’, delegations were divided into two groups, one in favour of the Member State of first entry, as proposed by the Commission, while the other stressed the key role played by the Member State at the origin of an alert triggering a “hit”. The following issues are the “object of extensive debates”:

“– the scope of the regulation;
– the ETIAS watchlist and the screening rules;
– the access to the ETIAS data;
– the interoperability of ETIAS with other systems and databases.”

More recently the Council Presidency has also submitted some possible compromise proposals to the other delegations (docs 8579/17 and 8584/17) and it is more than likely that the EP will be under pressure to launch the negotiations for a first reading agreement on this subject.

The European Parliament position (Libe Committee Debate)
On the EP side works are still at an initial phase (SEE OEIL DOSSIER HERE). The LIBE Committee has been informed for the first time by a Commission representative (Belinda Pyke) on 22 March 2017. It has been stressed that the purpose of the proposal is to improve internal security and border management and that policy visa liberalization is essential in the system. This proposal will contribute to the security of the Schengen area because as any risks will be identified prior to departure. Due to the political pressure of the European Council and the  very tight deadlines the Commission did not have the time to conduct an impact assessment although it would have been desirable; however, the Commission published a detailed study on the subject. The Commission representative made reference to the comparable systems in  Australia, Canada and USA and declared that the ETIAS system will take stock of the experience of these countries by overcoming their weaknesses and mirroring the strengths of these systems.
Firstly, request authorization will be easy and cheap. Applicants will receive rapidly (within 12 hours) a positive feedback and those without authorization will save travel costs. The ETIAS system provides an automatic control: such control will allow to verify that the criminal record is clean. These checks will take place on the basis of SIS, Interpol, ECRIS, Eurodac.
The ETIAS central unit will compare the data in the database and the identity of the applicant and the rest of the operations will be managed by the national units.
The decision of the unit will be delivered within 72 hours, unless it will be necessary to gather special information (in this case it will be possible an extension to a two-week maximum).
ETIAS will be financially self-sustaining, thanks to the tax that will be paid by applicants. It is estimated that the costs for developing it will amount to €212.1 million, while the average annual operations costs, to be covered by the revenue from fees, will be €85 million.
The data will be protected from abuse and the information may be given to law enforcement only in the case of very serious crimes (this possibility also exist for Eurodac).

The EP rapporteur Kinga Gal (PPE – Hungary) was not present at the debate, but a colleague read her statement. The rapporteur argues that the text is of great importance and it will cover three categories of passengers
1) European Citizens or persons enjoying the right of free movement under Union law
2) Third-country nationals under visa obligation
3) Third-country nationals without visa obligation
From now until 2020 the countries without visa obligation will increase. For third-country nationals without visa obligation it’s difficult to gather information; it’s therefore necessary to create an information system well established in legal terms, so as not to put excessive burdens for Member States.

The debate that followed, however, showed controversial elements in the proposal, criticized by MEPs.
Firstly, almost all the MEPs who spoke remarked the necessity of an impact assessment, finding it unacceptable yet another lack of it. An issue of such importance can not be studied without taking into account an impact assessment: the urgency can not justify such a lack.

Birgit Sippel (S&D – Germany), for instance, affirmed that she’s tired to listen to the Commission affirming that it’s necessary to adopt better legislation and that impact assessments are not conducted anymore because of urgency. EU needs to regulate well, not in a hurry: this rush to legislate, then, does not make sense if the execution by the Member States is so slow. She also remarked that one of the problems in this proposal is that the form requires a bit of everything and there is the risk that if an applicant forgets a small offense did at 15 years old he cannot enter.

The shadow rapporteur Gérard Deprez (ALDE – Belgium) wondered what professional criteria will be provided for ETIAS units and how it will be possible to apply Article 7 of the Schengen Code, because compulsory systematic checks for everybody (as provided in that Article) would have a significant impact on traffic at the border. Deprez considered that the term of 72 hours is reasonable whereas he considers excessive the term of validity of five years, because in the course of five years many things can change in a person’s life. Also foreign experiences in fact suggest different solutions: in US visa is valid for one year and in Australia for two years. Also with regard to rates, Deprez is at odds with the proposal: 5 euro is a low price if compared to the prices of US (14 euro) and Australia (20 euro). According to Deprez, then, in the request the applicant should indicate the member state where he would like to go. The proposal, in addiction, should define a better balancing of criminal convictions. For example, prison sentences of less than one year should not be an obstacle to the granting of authorization.

It may also emerge a serious problem for air traffic. It is estimated that for a plane carrying 300 people controls may last from four hours and a half to seven hours and a half. The controls are certainly a necessary corollary for visa liberalization, but the parliament should find more efficient solutions.

On behalf of DG HOME of the European Commission Mrs Belinda Pike replied that the validity of five years would be reasonable. Of course it is noted that in the case in which the person commits an offense such information is immediately acquired in the system. Contrary to what Deprez stated, then, the cost is not too low, but it’s instead sufficient to ensure the smart management of borders. It is a fee that will cover the costs and ensures a small gain. In the US half of the fee (therefore, 7 euros) is invested in the tourism sector. Do not pay anything on the other hand would be a huge burden on the EU budget.

Belinda Pike finally stressed that the screening does not immediately lead to the rejection of the request, but simply involves manual handling of the request.

Marie – Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL – France) and Bodil Valero (Greens/EFA – Sweden) highlighted that visas are returned, albeit with a different name (authorization). According to Marie – Christine Vergiat, then, this proposal does not promote cooperation between member states, it is repressive and attacks the fundamental rights, like others in this area of “smart” borders. Security and immigration are matters to be addressed in different texts, because adhere to different problems. The fact that some people should be identified through a profiling system also raises an ethical problem.

Bodil Valero remarked the privacy-issue. People will also provide information on education and health and Greens/Efa group would like to receive explanations about what is the reason for these provisions: perhaps the Commission’s intention is to gather information that cannot be collected in other ways. Furthermore, the 5-year period envisaged for data stocking is too long. She underlined that also the EDPS (European Data Protection Supervisor) has taken a fairly critical position on some of the elements of the proposal.
In his opinion, in fact, the EDPS states, among other things, that the establishment of ETIAS would have a significant impact on the right to the protection of personal data, since various kinds of data, collected initially for very different purposes, will become accessible to a broader range of public authorities (i.e. immigration authorities, border guards, law enforcement authorities, etc). For this reason, the EDPS considers that there is a need for conducting an assessment of the impact that the Proposal will entail on the right to privacy and the right to data protection enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, which will take stock of all existing EU-level measures for migration and security objectives.

Last but not least, during a TRAN (transport and tourism) committee on Wednesday 22 March, different speakers representing the tourist sector expressed concerns about the costs generated by the ETIAS in the tourism sector. However, the TRAN Committee decided not to give an opinion to LIBE.

NEXT STEPS

As soon as the two co-legislators will have defined their position a trilogue  could be launched which can bring to an agreement on first reading. As things currently stay an agreement will probably go hand in hand with the other “ENTRY/EXIT” legislative proposal.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facts

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

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

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

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

Judgment

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Luigi LIMONE (*)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

ANNEX EU-Legal Framework on readmission agreements

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

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

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

 

(*) FREE Group Trainee

Relocation of Asylum seekers in the EU

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

THE FULL VERSION OF THE STUDY IS ACCESSIBLE HERE   

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

 

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

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Background

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

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

Aims

On this basis, the study pursues the following objectives:

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

Issues and Recommendations  Continue reading

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

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 : 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 ..

——————————–

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.

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