The key migration questions to be answered by the EU Commission in 2019
In December 2018, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship announced that 2019 would be the year to achieve a common migration and asylum policy following the lines of the 2015 Agenda on Migration. However, in the current context, this objective seems difficult to achieve. In the last summit of 2018, EU heads of States were unsuccessful in approving substantial, but necessary, transformations of the migration and asylum policies. Moreover, the adoption of the Global Compact on Migration in December 2018 underlined strong divergencies between Member States on migration issues.
These conflicts occur even though the number of migrants and asylum seekers reaching Europe has drastically decreased since 2015. According to a Commission communication on the progress made under the European Agenda on Migration, the Central Mediterranean route has fallen by 80% since summer 2017, the number of asylum applications has also decreased by more than 10% in 2018 compared to 2017 and in total, asylum claims in 2017 have decreased by almost half compared to 2015.
The main points of disagreement are the following:
The EU Commission wants to create a permanent corps of 10,000 European Border and Coast Guards (EBCG), in addition to the already existing 115,000 national border guards. During the last summit of 2018, EU leaders refused to move forward with the initiative showing concerns on the issue of national sovereignty over border control. Moreover, the question of the expansion of the mandate of the border and coast guards to operate in third countries beyond EU’s immediate neighborhood and offer more assistance for returnee operations is still being discussed. Before taking a decision, the following issues have to be clarified: the composition, the tasks, the powers and mandate of the EBCG.
Additionally, the proposition on increasing the capacity of border and coast guards is related to the current debate for the amendment of the Return Directive and particularly whether the application of a shortened border procedure leading to the immediate return of unsuccessful asylum seekers should be mandatory or not.
Still with the aim of receiving as little migrants as possible in the EU, in June 2018, the European Council put forth (as part of discussions on the Return Directive) the idea to create “disembarkation platforms” in order to further externalize the reception of migrants and asylum seekers. The idea was that migrants saved in Search and Rescue operations would be disembarked on platforms located in third countries rather than brought to an EU Member State. This idea has been widely criticized and so far no third country have accepted to host such a platform. For now, it seems that this idea has been abandoned.
Lastly, the reform of the Common European Asylum System remains stalled. The overall purpose is to establish common standards for asylum procedures, identification of beneficiaries of international protection and subsidiary protection in Europe. In June, the Council Presidency and the European Parliament rapporteur came to a temporary agreement on three areas of the reform: The Qualification Regulation which sets common standards for the recognition of beneficiaries of international protection and a harmonized refugee status; the Resettlement Framework Regulation which is related to the resettlement of refugees in another country than the one where he or she applied for asylum; and the Reception Conditions Directive which specifies the rules for the reception of asylum applications. However, the reform of the Dublin Regulation, the EU Asylum Agency or Eurodac seem to have reached a dead end.
The EU and Member States must now complete the architecture of the European Agenda on Migration in order to build sustainable responses to migration flows and have a strong system in place to prevent a new crisis caused by a potential new increase in arrivals.
Author: Dr. Fanny Tittel-Mosser