Justice and Home Affairs Council: agreement on strengthening Fortress Europe

Update (16.9.15): The Decision to relocate 40,000 refugees is effective for those who:

"have arrived or are arriving on the territory of those Member States [Greece and Italy"] as from 15 August 2015 until 16 September 2017"

Both the European Commission and the European Parliament wanted the relocation programme to run from April 2015. The Council Decision to only start tjhe programme from 15 August 2015 excludes hundreds of thousands of refugees who arrived before this date. It would appear that the Council only wants to include those who will be caught by the new "hotspots" being set up in Greece and Italy where all new arrivals will be fingerprinted and registered. (Press release, 14.9.15: Relocation of 40 000 refugees from Greece and ltaly agreed by CounciI pdf)

News coverage of yesterday's Justice and Home Affairs Council has focused on the Council's agreement to relocate 40,000 refugees, and its failure to agree the relocation of a further 120,000 refugees. While the issue of relocation may have proved problematic for the EU's Member States, conclusions issued by the Luxembourg Presidency show that they are broadly in agreement on a whole host of other migration policies.

Border controls will be tightened, the EU's military operation will step up a gear, return (deportation) efforts will be boosted, and longer-term plans to keep refugees in camps close to their countries of origin are being formulated. See: Luxembourg Presidency, 'Conclusions', 12002/15, 14 September 2015 (pdf). What follows is a summary of the document, with links to documentation and further reading at the end.

Border controls and military force

"The Council has stressed that effective border control is imperative for the management of migration flows," say the conclusions, and the Council will "further strengthen" Frontex's ongoing TRITON and POSEIDON operations. Frontex will also deploy Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABITs) "to reinforce the response capacity of the European Union at sensitive external borders in consultation with the Member States concerned... Measures will be designed to support frontline and transit countries."

The conclusions make specific reference to further support for Greece. Alongside "rapid and effective relocation measures", Greece "should be supported in its efforts to strengthen the reception capacities, the asylum system and the management of the external borders in full respect of human rights and safety requirements." To see what has been agreed between the EU and Greece for the coming years in regard to border control, see: National Programme Internal Security Fund (pdf)

It seems there will be further measures to control the movement of migrants and refugees within the Schengen area: "Adequate measures will be taken to prevent secondary movements."

Yesterday the Council also agreed that "phase two" of the military operation EUNAVFOR MED should begin:

"This important transition will enable the EU naval operation against smugglers and traffickers in the Mediterranean to conduct boarding, search, seizure and diversion on the high seas of vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling or trafficking, within international law."

An official EU military assessment on the "transition" to the second phase of the EUNAVFOR operation, seen by Statewatch, notes that a UN Security Council Resolution will still be required to take action in the territorial waters of Libya and other north African states. There is a need:

"[T]o continue intensive efforts to achieve both a United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) and coastal States' consent, especially Libya’s, in order to gain maximum effect of Phase 2, extending the Area of Operations (AOO) to the territorial and internal waters of these States and allowing action on the High Seas without flag State consent."


The plan to relocate 40,000 people from Greece and Italy has been fully approved, and "some Member States committed to complete their pledges already by the end of November." See: Council Decision establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and of Greece (pdf)

A number of actions will accompany the relocation plan:

"In parallel, as this decision [on relocation] enters into force, it is crucial that robust mechanisms become operational by 16 September in Italy and Greece to ensure identification, registration and fingerprinting of migrants; to identify persons in need of international protection and support their relocation; and to identify irregular migrants to be returned. To ensure the process remains efficient and manageable, reception will be duly organised so as to temporarily accommodate people in line with the EU acquis until a decision is quickly taken on their situation."

However, a more ambitious proposal "to relocate 120,000 people an additional 120,000 persons in need of international protection from any Member States exposed to massive migratory flows" has merely been agreed "in principle". According to the Presidency's conclusions: "Work will be carried out as a matter of priority on the preparation of a formal decision to implement this commitment," with a view to its adoption at the next JHA Council meeting on 8-9 October.

Return and readmission

"The Council has recalled the importance of effective return and readmission policies, which should be implement with utmost urgency by all Member States and enforced in a manner consistent with the acquis." The Commission's Action Plan on Return and Returns Handbook (pdfs) have "been welcomed and will be examined in the coming days" by Council working parties, "in view of an endorsement at the Council meeting on 8-9 October 2015."

Conclusions were adopted on ensuring the systematic entry of all return decisions and re-entry bans into the Schengen Information System. See: Draft Council Conclusions on alerts in the SIS for the purpose of refusing entry and stay pursuant to Article 24 of the SIS II Regulation upon a return decision (pdf)

Return decisions "must be enforced consistently with adequate financial resources provided by the EU budget."

Later this year the Commission will propose new powers for Frontex that, amonst other things, will give it a greater role in the deportation process. Currently the agency can only coordinate joint return flights on the basis of Member States' requests; new proposals will be aimed at allowing Frontex to initiate joint return flights.

The EU will also provide greater support for Western Balkan states to "ensure the return of those who are not in need of international protection". As well as implementing more stringent measures for fingerprinting and identification, Greece and Italy (and by extension all other EU states) must also ensure that:

"When voluntary return is not practicable and other measures provided for in the Return Directive and in the Handbook on return are inadequate to prevent secondary movements, detention measures in line with Article 15 of the Return Directive should be applied urgently and effectively."

The conclusions say that: "All tools should be mobilised to promote readmission of irregular migrants to countries of origin and transit," in particular "foreign policy and visa policy". Cooperation with non-EU states should be "stepped up, particularly where a formal approach through readmission agreements is deemed too cumbersome or is not achieving results" (emphasis added).

"Safe and sustainable" camps outside Europe

The "medium-term goal" is to develop "safe and sustainable reception capacities in the affected regions and providing lasting prospects and adequate procedures for refugees and their families until return to their country of origin is possible." The Council has agreed to adopt a common list of "safe countries of origin", permitting the return of people to those countries, and the conclusions hint that the intention is to extend this list by further supporting refugee camps outside Europe:

"Once the conditions set by Directive 2013/32/EU are met, notably the principle of non-refoulement referred to in its Article 38, EU Member States are in a position to find asylum applications of these persons inadmissible on safe third country grounds in accordance with Article 33 of the said Directive, after which swift assisted return can follow."

Other cooperation with non-EU states in controlling migration will continue and potentially be increased. The Western Balkans and Turkey receive a paragraph of the conclusions each, and paragraph 14 signals an intention to divert development aid:

"The Council stresses once more the importance of reinforcing cooperatin with relevant third countries. The High Representative is urged to step up high-level demarches in the main countries of origin and transit. The Valletta Summit and the high-level conference to address the challenges of the Balkan Route will be instrumental in strengthening this cooperation. The necessary resources should be made available through reprioritisation of development cooperation as well as economic assistance and direct investment in infrastructure and businesses in relevant third countries."

A "number of other measures to be considered" are contained in a previous Presidency document: 'Migration: EU action, state of play and next steps', 11782/1/15 REV 1, 11 September 2015 (pdf)

Documentation, background and further reading

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