Home Affairs Council
Agreement in sight on Schengen, asylum package advances
By Nathalie Vandystadt and Anca Gurzu | Wednesday 06 June 2012
The controversy over the Schengen reform is expected to be resolved with very few changes compared with existing rules for the absence of identity checks at intra-European borders. The Danish EU Presidency expects to secure agreement on two texts – the Schengen evaluation mechanism and the conditions for reintroducing checks at internal borders – at the Home Affairs Council, on 7 June in Luxembourg.
The situation has changed completely with the departure of Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi. This reform emerged from the controversy, in early 2011, between Paris and Rome over the arrival of around 20,000 Tunisian immigrants in Italy. Once they received travel papers from Rome, they went to France to join family members. The other European countries gave in to French demands and urged the Commission to carry out a reform.
“If today’s French and Italian governments had been in office a year ago, we wouldn’t have changed the system at all,” said a Council source.
As under the existing rules, the states will be able to decide unilaterally to restore checks at national borders for foreseeable events like a football match or in an urgent situation, such as a terrorist threat. The Commission will nevertheless have a role to play in the only real innovation of the reform, which concerns a persistent serious failing by a country to monitor its external borders, as is the case currently with Greece, singled out for its deficiencies in combating illegal immigration at its border with Turkey and for its asylum system, considered degrading. In such cases, the Council and Commission may send teams of experts to assess the situation on location. The Commission may then recommend the deployment of European border guard teams. If the problem persists after three months, the Council, acting on a recommendation from the Commission, may decide to reintroduce border controls for a period of six months to two years at most between the “deficient” Schengen state and its European partners.
TARGET: END 2012
The Council will also tackle the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), a project that has seen limited progress in the last years due to various disagreements between member states and the institutions. There are currently four outstanding files in the completion of the CEAS, which aims to create greater harmonisation of national asylum systems and higher levels of protection for applicants by the end of 2012.
Firstly, the Council and the European Parliament are expected to finalise, by the end of June, negotiations on the revised Dublin regulations. While the main provision of the regulation – which allows for the return of asylum seekers to the first member state they entered the EU through – will remain in place after opposition from the Nordic countries, the new text introduces a mechanism for “early warning, preparedness and crisis management”. This means that member states with high migratory flows would receive, among others, financial aid and support from EU agencies.
Secondly, the Commission will present to the Council the proposal it tabled on 30 May regarding Eurodac, a database of fingerprints of asylum applicants and illegal migrants within the EU.
Europoliticspreviously reported that the Commission, which manages the database, is proposing to make Eurodac directly accessible to national police services in member states with the aim of facilitating their work. The ministers will have the opportunity to present their first reactions to the proposal. Negotiations with the European Parliament are expected to start as soon as possible.
The Council will also note progress on the Asylum Procedures Directive, which has been under recast since 2009. Specifically, progress has been made regarding access to the procedure, the rights of applicants with special procedural needs and the applicability of accelerated procedures. Discussions in the Council regarding issues such as guarantees for unaccompanied minors are due to be finalised in the coming days.
Finally, discussions on the Reception Conditions Directive, first adopted in 2003, are ongoing with Parliament. The goal of Copenhagen is to find a political agreement by the end of June
The justice ministers will meet, on 8 June, to discuss access to a lawyer during criminal proceedings, among other subjects.