For the past few months, pressure at common external borders has had consequences for all the European Union Member States. The migration situation in the Mediterranean could rapidly turn into a genuine crisis which would affect the confidence our fellow citizens may have in freedom of movement in the Schengen Area. Yet this freedom of movement is a major achievement of the European enterprise which our two countries absolutely want to protect.
The work already under way must swiftly take shape and be developed further. New measures also seem essential. The June European Council must give the political impetus allowing us to overcome obstacles so that concrete decisions can be taken to address the current difficulties. Indeed the European Union must both redefine its relationship with third countries – particularly those of the southern Mediterranean – and thoroughly overhaul its internal rules in this area.
I. A new partnership with third countries
We are convinced that the main priority for the European Union is to find a comprehensive agreement very quickly with its southern Mediterranean neighbours. The EU must provide significant – if necessary, huge – support to these countries, first and foremost to those which have chosen the path of democracy.
In return, we are entitled to expect partner countries to commit to swift, effective cooperation with the European Union and its Member States in the fight against illegal immigration. This cooperation must focus on management of their borders, with a possible role for Frontex to help these countries combat illegal emigration and with European aid to support them in their fight against criminal networks. It must also cover the readmission of illegal migrants.
Let us propose to our southern Mediterranean partners a comprehensive, ambitious partnership, but let us not hesitate in making their practical determination to contribute to our efforts to combat illegal immigration a precondition and intrinsic element of this partnership.
Furthermore, Member States, with increasing help from the European Union, should continue contributing to the development of regional protection programmes already established through the outstanding efforts of the UNHCR and IOM, for people requiring international protection or for people benefiting from repatriation assistance. The European Union should also think about a way of facilitating the mobility of people in the Mediterranean area, while ruling out any automatic mechanisms.
II. New solidarity between the Member States
The massive influx of migrants particularly affecting certain Member States is a challenge for all the partners. This challenge must be tackled with a twofold concern: not to send the wrong signals and thereby create a magnet effect, and at the same time to offer the maximum concrete solidarity with the Member States most affected.
In this spirit, mechanisms of financial solidarity with those States should be strengthened, particularly to make them easier to mobilize, as well as to increase their funds. If a massive influx of displaced persons from Libya were to occur, the European Union should be in a position to implement, on the basis of a pre-prepared operational plan, specific solidarity mechanisms to grant temporary protection to those displaced persons, taking into account the reception capabilities of each of the partners, as well as the efforts already made.
It is also essential that the European Union create a common European asylum system. The tools for successfully establishing this system – including access by the law enforcement agencies to the Eurodac (1) database in order to fight organized crime – must be adopted by the end of 2012 under conditions tolerable for national asylum systems, which are already under great pressure in several Member States, some of which, moreover, are a long way from implementing the first raft of legislative tools, adopted a few years ago. To that end, the proposals set out must achieve a new balance more compatible with the management constraints of those systems.
In order to achieve a common European asylum system, greater harmonization of standards and practices should be supported as soon as possible, in such a way as to discourage secondary movements (2) and prevent abuses and expulsions, so that people with grounds to request international protection can have their cases examined under good conditions and in accordance with high standards, regardless of the Member State concerned. The policy of asylum, which is a duty and a value of the European Union, must not let the European Union become a destination for illegal immigration through the back door.
The States facing the most acute difficulties in terms of asylum must benefit from priority support from the European Asylum Support Office so that they may guarantee the reception and handling of applications under appropriate conditions.
III. Enhanced security within the Schengen Area
Strengthening the Frontex agency is a major imperative. To this end, we must put into immediate effect the measures set out in the conclusions of the JHA Council of Ministers held in Luxembourg on 11 April 2011, in which Frontex was asked to speed up negotiations with the countries in the region – particularly Tunisia – with a view to reaching operational working agreements and organizing joint patrol operations, in cooperation with the Tunisian authorities and in accordance with all the relevant international conventions, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (“Montego Bay Convention”). In line with the European Council’s conclusions, an agreement must be reached by June 2011 on revising the agency’s rules, to increase its operational capabilities as far as possible. The agency could also open a specialized office in the Mediterranean region and develop its monitoring and interception operations: its budget should be adapted accordingly, in particular to preserve Erasmus-type programmes for border guards. Moreover, Frontex is ideally suited to being the nucleus of a European border guards system. In line with the call made in the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum of October 2008, the time has come to lay the foundations of such a European system, beginning, for example, with better use of the resources available in the External Borders Fund to establish a common border guards inspection system.
Stronger governance of the Schengen Area is obviously necessary: it must be based on stricter requirements and more effective tools, in order to attain greater collective discipline and consistency in levels of protection of the common external borders, including with a view to the enlargement of the Schengen Area.
A legislative amendment to the assessment mechanism is required. However, the guidelines contained in the current legislative proposal are insufficient. A more ambitious legislative package should be presented this year, based on the following principles:
the assessment procedure must continue to involve the Member States closely, so as to make use of their expertise and create the conditions for an ever more trusting relationship between them;
the Frontex agency, in close liaison with the other relevant agencies in the JHA field, should be the coordination hub for this assessment and inspection mechanism, through the establishment of a pool of experts and assessment teams – possibly including European inspectors – the conduct of missions and the preparation of reports;
examining the possibility of temporarily restoring internal border controls in the event of exceptional difficulties in managing the common external borders, under conditions to be defined.
Finally, the reinforcement of the Schengen Area’s governance must be subject to more structured political oversight, for example by giving more visibility to discussions on the subject at the JHA Council and by organizing an annual debate at the European Council.
We are convinced that, collectively, the European Union has the means to strengthen its common area of freedom and security, just as it has managed to find responses to strengthen its economic governance. It is vital for citizens’ confidence in the European enterprise. The forthcoming European Council must allow the necessary decisions to be taken to that effect.
(1) automated fingerprint identification system
(2) irregular movement of migrants from asylum countries to other countries