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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Interview: developments in EU immigration and asylum policy

Cecilia MalmströmImage via Wikipedia  
Source: Eurasylum

Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, on “Recent and unfolding developments on EU immigration and asylum policy, with special emphasis on the Stockholm Action Plan 2010-2014”

Eurasylum: The Stockholm Action Plan was adopted in June 2010. The Plan outlines the key activities and timetable related to the implementation of the Stockholm Programme, which sets out the EU’s priorities in the field of justice and home affairs for the period 2010-2014. In the field of immigration, the Action Plan outlines a number of forthcoming initiatives, including Communications on addressing labour shortages through migration in EU Member States; on the evaluation of readmission agreements, and other initiatives related to the development of effective policies to combat irregular immigration; on the evaluation on the common policy on return and on its future development; and on the evaluation and future development of the Global Approach to Migration. Can you guide us through the key elements of the Action Plan in the field of immigration?

Cecilia Malmström: I am very pleased with the Stockholm programme and the Action Plan. The agenda for the EU is now set and we are working hard to implement it. Establishing a common EU migration and asylum policy is one of my key policy objectives for the coming years. We need a forward-looking and comprehensive European migration policy, based on solidarity and responsibility.

It is crucial that we move forward on migration and this for several reasons. One of them is related to demography. Between now and the year 2060 the EU labour force will shrink by over 50 million people. This does not mean that the EU needs an additional 50 million migrants, but it does mean that we must work harder to ensure that the EU and Member States see immigration as one way to address future labour needs. Simply put, we will not be able to sustain our welfare systems within the EU if we do not act and open up more possibilities for people to come to Europe.

 We have already established the foundations for a European legal framework for legal migration, with Directives on family reunification, long term residents, researchers, students and highly qualified workforce. Before the summer, I extended this framework by proposing two new Directives on seasonal workers and intra-corporate transfers from non-EU countries. These proposals respect the existing competences of the Member States to decide on the numbers of workers allowed into their own country. But with a common EU framework in place we will make sure that those coming to the EU have the same rights and obligations wherever they go and that the procedures to access the Union will be simplified. This is crucial if we want to contribute to the Europe 2020 Agenda which aims to strengthen the EU in many areas, and not least prepare us for the challenges that come with our modern, globalised environment.

During my mandate as Commissioner I intend to take more initiatives in this domain. For instance, we aim to propose new measures in 2011 on how to address labour shortages in Member States through migration. In 2013 we plan to consolidate the existing legislation in the area of legal immigration in an Immigration code which takes into account evaluations of the existing legislation, the need for simplification and transparency, and, where necessary, extending the existing categories of migrants covered by the current EU legislation.

Also, the so called Return Directive must be transposed into national law by the end of this year, and the Employers' Sanctions Directive by July 2011. Yet another important initiative is the New European Agenda on Integration, which the Commission will present next year, as the interconnection between migration and integration is a very important aspect of migration policies. Integration will be a key area for all Member States in the years to come. More needs to be done to integrate migrants into our societies. Ensuring connections to the educational, schooling and training systems, access to the labour market, and making migrants feel part of our societies; the agenda is wide and demanding. Member States, governmental agencies, and institutions have to play their part, just as migrants themselves also need to take their responsibility in the integration process.

Eurasylum: In the field of asylum, the Action Plan foresees, among other initiatives, a Communication on the possible joint processing of asylum applications; the development of a common methodology with a view to reducing disparities of asylum decisions within the EU; a Communication on a framework for the transfer of protection of beneficiaries of international protection and the mutual recognition of asylum decisions; and the establishment of a mechanism to review the Member States' national asylum systems and identify the conditions that would enable Member States to support each other in building capacity. Can you discuss, briefly, some of the most important planned activities in the field of asylum policy in the next four years, and comment on the way in which these will contribute to completing the Common European Asylum Policy?

Cecilia Malmström: Those who come to Europe and seek our protection must be treated with dignity, decency, and in full respect of fundamental rights. The 1951 UN Geneva Convention sets the overall framework and provides the basis for the Common European Asylum System. In the Stockholm Programme, all Member States have agreed on the establishment of such a Common European Asylum System which should be established before the end of 2012.

We need coherency in all steps of the asylum process, not least to be coherent towards the many people who come to Europe for asylum and international protection. The asylum seeker should get the same answer regardless of which country he or she submits the asylum application. It should not make a difference for the outcome of the asylum decision whether someone applies for asylum in Luxembourg or in Portugal. The Commission wants to see a system which allows Member States to support each other, a system which is fair, efficient and cost-efficient.

I fully support the efforts of the current Belgian EU Presidency in their ambitions on accelerating the negotiations on the asylum package. There is still a lot of work ahead of us, and the year 2012 is not very far away. While we are trying to reach an agreement on harmonising the legislation within this area, the Commission has also insisted on the need to make extensive use of practical cooperation.

We also need to reinforce solidarity between Member States and between the EU and countries outside of the Union – especially those countries that host large refugee populations. This is why we will look at ways to improve the EU's joint resettlement programme, which is currently being negotiated in the Council and the Parliament, expand the Regional Protection Programmes, reinforce our links with UNHCR and look at new approaches concerning access to asylum procedures targeting main transit countries.

Next year, we will present a review of different forms of solidarity (financial and material support, relocation of beneficiaries of international protection, etc.). We will also analyse the results of the relocation pilot project with Malta and of various studies on sharing of responsibility.

Eurasylum: An important development during the Stockholm four-year period, and in particular over the coming months, will be the implementation of the core mandate of the newly established European Asylum Support Office (EASO), which aims to promote and enhance practical cooperation among Member States on asylum matters, and to coordinate common action to assist Member States under particular pressure. Can you comment on the anticipated benefits, and possible challenges, of EASO’s forthcoming activities, particularly as regards the effective implementation of the concept of ‘EU responsibility sharing’ in the field of asylum?

Cecilia Malmström: The core mandate of the European Asylum Office, which will be located in Malta, is to support practical co-operation within the EU, to support those Member States that receive the most asylum seekers, and to contribute to the implementation of the Common European Asylum System. The EASO will support national processing by preparing factual reports on countries of origin and coordinating the analysis of this information. The EASO will also be responsible for gathering information in a coordinated manner, in particular through a new portal concerning information on countries of origin, but also by drawing on previous experience from projects in Member States. As regards EU responsibility sharing, the EASO will have the possibility to send Asylum Support Teams to EU Member States that are subject to large numbers of asylum seekers and therefore need EU assistance. The effective mobilisation of these teams and the success of their missions will in large part rely on the willingness of the Member States involved. Another important role of the EASO is to gather information on national asylum systems and help store and manage this data in factual, law and jurisprudence databases. Once up and running, the EASO will therefore play a crucial role as a centre of expertise on the Member States' asylum systems, and thereby will be able to contribute to better implementation of the asylum legislation. I expect the EASO to be operational in the summer of 2011. Its executive director will be nominated very soon. Once EASO becomes fully operational, our practical cooperation both within the Union and with non-EU countries and international organisations should be reinforced.
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