Brussels 12.03.2021 The New Migration and Asylum Pact: short on solidarity and weighing heavy on states of first entry, according to the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).
The EESC is worried about the feasibility of a number of proposals contained in the pact. There are grave concerns that it may even add to the pressure on the already overwhelmed states of first entry, effectively turning them into “closed centres” for migrants at EU borders.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has welcomed the new Migration and Asylum Pact but says that the proposals it sets out will be hard to implement and cannot be called a clear step towards creating a resilient and forward-looking common EU strategy on migration and asylum.
In two recent opinions, in which it analyses several proposals for regulations governing asylum management and asylum procedures, the EESC states that the new pact might not be able to ensure the fair and efficient processing of asylum applications. These would need to be shared evenly among Member States, which would result in the swift granting of international protection at EU borders to those migrants that need it and the return of those that do not.
On the contrary, the burden of responsibility and inconvenience for the countries of first entry will only increase, since the proposed solidarity mechanism, which is supposed to regulate the control of migration flows at borders, is based on a hypothetical, voluntary system of solidarity.
This means that under the mechanism, Member States will be able to choose whether they wish to participate in the relocation or sponsored return of persons in an irregular situation. However, no mention is made of incentives to encourage countries to take part, or of clear-cut criteria for how much each country should contribute.
Coupled with the Pact’s new pre-screening and border control proposals, which are likely to result in complex and lengthy procedures at the EU’s external borders, the mechanism may lead to the transformation of first-entry countries into large pre-departure or detention centres, increasing the chances of human rights breaches and of pressure on host communities.
“The pact is not ideal. We wanted something with more initiative, something more supportive. But we have to endorse it. It has some fresh ideas after the failure of the Dublin process and it is a big package. It is extremely important for the future of the EU,” says Dimitris Dimitriadis, rapporteur for the EESC’s opinion on asylum management.
Mr Dimitriadis says the EESC is pleased that the regulations proposed in the Pact invoke the principles of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility, but believes the solidarity obligations of the states of first entry to be disproportionate. The procedures provide no assurances for relocation. There are only mandatory border procedures without an automatic sharing mechanism. “Put simply, solidarity, in the form of relocation, cannot be voluntary. Solidarity needs to be automatic and it needs to be binding. We need to have mandatory relocations without a question mark, without red tape or bureaucracy hampering them.”
Panagiotis Gkofas, rapporteur for the opinion on asylum procedures under the new pact, is pessimistic about the outcome of the pact’s implementation: “Ultimately, the proposed regulations will place a huge burden on the Member States of southern Europe, with the inevitable consequence that the regulations will be inapplicable and will fail to achieve their intended result. These Member States will have no choice but to become either detention or pre-departure centres for human beings, for a period of up to six or seven months, if not more, until the outcome of the procedures is known, resulting in situations that are much worse than before.”
According to Mr Gkofas, Member States will end up being de facto forced “to reject many asylum applications, even those that meet the conditions for asylum to be granted, in order to avoid increasing numbers of people being held together in inhumane conditions”.
The legislation analysed in the opinions includes the proposals for a regulation on asylum and migration management and for a regulation addressing situations of migration crisis and force majeure. Three of the nine instruments contained in the new pact are also scrutinised: a new screening regulation; an amended proposal revising the asylum procedures regulation and an amended proposal for a recast Eurodac regulation.
The EESC recognises the importance of the proposals having the legal status of a regulation, which is binding and directly applicable in the Member States. In order to become a fully-fledged policy, however, all the relevant proposed regulations will need to be adopted concurrently.
Among other matters, the EESC discusses the proposed policy of return to countries of origin, which may be fraught with problems, as the EU will be forced to rely on the willingness of these countries, whether of origin or transfer – to collaborate. This is why those countries should be given clear incentives and disincentives
The EESC welcomes the introduction of a crisis and ‘force majeure’ component in the field of migration and asylum. While the crisis and ‘force majeure’ regulation provides a window of opportunity for binding solidarity, however, it covers procedural support rather than emergency solidarity measures. Solidarity is undermined by the complex and bureaucratic procedures required to implement it.
The EESC expresses concerns about the new border procedures, especially as regards protecting the right to request asylum. It also objects to the use of ill-defined legal concepts such as “security threat” and “public order” or the flawed concept of “countries with low asylum recognition rates”, which give rise to legal uncertainty.
In the EESC’s view, the proposals leave many questions unanswered, such as how and where people are going to be kept during the border procedure and how to avoid a state of legal limbo by guaranteeing the right to effective judicial protection.
The asylum procedure regulation should make solidarity mandatory when it comes to relocation: without such a provision and unless procedures are created to allow people to apply for asylum in EU Member States without the need to cross EU borders, in practical terms, the regulation will not work. Furthermore, the EESC urges the Commission to take special care of families with children and unaccompanied minors, stating that it is unacceptable for a child to only be considered as such under the age of 12 and not 18, which is contrary to international law.