While closely following the recent developments concerning people trying to make their way into the EU by crossing the Mediterranean in small boats ,the Commission welcomes the policies of Member States that are aimed at ending the precarious situation of people on board these vessels and allowing them to disembark.
Preventing illegal immigration while offering protection to those who are in genuine need has long been recognised as needing an EU response. The arrival of such vessels underlines the need to reinforce EU solidarity and strengthen the common EU policies in the area of immigration and asylum which are being developed to deal with these issues in close partnership with countries of origin and transit. Based on the conclusions of the European Council in Tampere in October 1999, the EU is developing a comprehensive, balanced and integrated approach which seeks to put in place durable solutions for the longer term while recognising that because of the linkages between the different issues concerned, there are no "quick fix" solutions.
EU policy is focused on migration management and addresses the issue of illegal migration via the sea as part of a package of measures concerning legal and illegal migration, increasing their effectiveness by working in partnership with the countries of origin and transit. The objective is to improve control of the EU?s frontiers, in particular through enhanced cooperation and coordination between the Member States, while ensuring that there are clear legal channels for the admission of the economic migrants which Europe needs and channels for asylum for those who need protection. The development of a common EU asylum policy based on the principles of solidarity and burden sharing, which is already underway, is a key element of this approach. The need now is to pursue vigorously the Action plans on illegal immigration, external borders and on return policy which have already been adopted by the Council and to closely monitor them. The Commission is currently preparing its first annual report on their implementation as part of the regular monitoring process of the common policy on illegal immigration, smuggling and trafficking of human beings, external borders and the return of illegal residents.
EU policy is being developed around a number of inter-linked elements:
reinforcing the external borders of the EU and reinforcing cooperation among Member States in combating illegal migration by sea: at the end of 2003, the Council adopted a programme of measures to combat illegal immigration across the maritime borders of the Member States. Most of these measures are of an operational nature; there are hardly any measures of a legislative nature. The operational measures aim at rendering the checks in Member States and third countries more effective. In this respect, a key element of this programme is the need to enhance cooperation with third countries from which illegal migration flows originate or transit. There are suggestions for operations in territorial waters and on the high seas. In addition to initiatives for patrols and information gathering and analysis, there are proposals for the treatment of immigrants found on board vessels which have been intercepted or prevented from leaving. The conclusion of agreements with the countries of origin or transit of illegal immigration is also encouraged. As most of the measures contained are of an operational nature, and taking into account the absence of a European Border Guard, the majority of them are to be implemented by the MS; nevertheless, the two centres for the coordination of the maritime borders which were created in 2004 under IT Presidency, also play an important role in the implementation of the above-mentioned programme; these centres (one in Pireaus, the other in Madrid) will soon be operational and they will intensify the launching of joint operations so as to achieve a better control and surveillance of the EU maritime borders. The European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders will be implemented in 2005 in view of an integrated management of the external borders of the MS of the EU; in particular the sea border centres will then become specialised branches of the Agency; this latter will also be in charge of facilitating operational cooperation with third countries.
putting in place a common asylum policy: the EU has put in place the foundations of a common asylum policy. Community instruments lay down minimum standards on reception conditions, procedures and the conditions for the qualification as a refugee or beneficiary of subsidiary protection as well as an agreement on how to decide which EU Member State should be responsible for determining an asylum application. In the recently agreed Constitutional Treaty, provision is made for a truly common asylum system and the EU will set out a road map to achieve this goal at the European Council in November. One issue which is being given attention in this context is that of protection in the region. The Commission?s view is that much more should be done to provide protection as quickly as possible and as close as possible to the needs of refugees. In June the Commission presented proposals on how the EU can take action on protection and migration in third countries including reinforcing the protection capacity in regions of origin and the General Affairs Council is expected to discuss these proposals in October.
return and readmission policy: the Commission believes that those migrants, who do not or no longer have the right to stay legally in the EU, should be returned. The Commission is negotiating readmission agreements with a series of countries, including Morocco (to be concluded soon) and Algeria to facilitate the return of such people to their country of origin or transit. To strengthen the effective return of illegal immigrants Community return projects are planned. The Commission will table a proposal on minimum standards on return procedures including expulsion and removal decisions as well as mutual recognition of other Member States' decisions before the end of 2004 in order to further develop the community policy in the field of fight against illegal immigration. Member States can also use a secure, web-based platform set up by the Commission for the Member States' migration management services to exchange strategical, tactical and operational information concerning illegal migratory movements and on the fight against such phenomena. This network ensures a rapid information exchange and Member States can closely follow the development of the situation regarding illegal immigration from any particular region that is essential to prepare any coordinated response, if necessary.
developing partnerships with third countries: as many migrants originate in African ACP countries (Chad, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, etc), the Community is reinforcing its activities in partnership with these countries. Article 13 of the Cotonou agreement that entered into force last year provides the basis for this and the Commission believes much more energy should be put in making use of the possibilities this agreement provides for dialogue and cooperation on migration management. With respect to North Africa, action plans are currently being negotiated with all these countries which, for the first time, include a special part dealing with migration management and illegal migration. It is expected that these action plans will be agreed in the autumn, providing a common basis for effective action between the EU and the countries of North Africa. To support this policy the Council adopted in February 2004 the AENEAS programme to provide technical and financial assistance to third countries in the fields of migration and asylum. Priority areas will be the fight against illegal immigration, readmission, facilitating migrant remittances and capacity building aimed at better managing migration. The programme will ensure the continuation of actions previously financed from budget line B7-667 and has an allocation of 250 M euros for the first 5 years. Actions will be financed on an annual basis so as to provide for maximum flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances and priorities as they evolve. The programme will be complementary to other actions and programmes managed by the Commission which already include finance to third countries for activities in the fields of migration and asylum.
development policy: The Commission believes that the long-term objective of the Community policy in this area must remain addressing the root causes of migration. Poverty eradication is one of the key elements together with promoting good governance and democratic developments in countries of origin and transit of migrants.