States are heading for a new dispute
Brussels, Berlin The European Union is threatened with a new dispute over how to deal with migration. In a current draft of the declaration of the EU summit this Thursday in Brussels, the member states advocate making greater use of visa policy to put pressure on states that are uncooperative on migration issues.
How much Pressure the EU should exert on such countries of origin and to what extent positive incentives for cooperation should be created on the other hand remains controversial. Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faser (SPD) is against using the EU visa policy offensively as a means of pressure.
A number of other states, on the other hand, are in favor of it. Among them Sweden, which took over the EU Council Presidency at the beginning of the year. One reason is the strong position of the far-right Sweden Democrats in parliament.
Since last autumn’s elections, the new centre-rightGovernment dependent on the support of the Sweden Democrats by Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson. And this party, which emerged from the neo-Nazi scene, is on a collision course with the goals of the EU, especially when it comes to the issues of migration and the rule of law.
Migration policy will play a central role at the EU summit. The declaration states that “rapid action must be taken to ensure effective returns from the European Union and from third countries along the routes to the countries of origin”. Various measures are proposed, including visa policy.
The EU Commission should make full use of the possibilities of the “Visa Code, including the possibility of introducing restrictive visa measures with regard to third countries that do not cooperate on return”.
EU member states have been blocking each other for years
The EU has been trying for years to deport more foreigners without a right to stay, but is making little progress. In 2021, the European Court of Auditors found the existing system to be highly inefficient and “doing the opposite of what it’s supposed to do: instead of deterring, it encourages illegal migration”.
In figures it looks like this: In 2019, the proportion of people who were obliged to leave the EU and who actually left the EU was 29 percent. In 2021 it was only 21 percent – probably also due to the pandemic. The EU Commission had announced a target of around 70 percent in 2018.
From the point of view of many EU countries, more returns would also be important because the asylum systems in many countries are completely overburdened. The number of asylum applications rose last year by almost 50 percent to 924,000. Added to this are the four million war refugees from Ukraine who do not have to apply for asylum in the EU.
Sweden, which took over the EU Council Presidency at the beginning of the year, has put the issue of migration back on the European agenda. However, a comprehensive reform of the asylum system is considered unlikely in Brussels. The member states have been blocking each other for years. Instead, they now want to make progress on individual issues such as the deportation discussion.
The EU Commission also sees an urgent need for action. In a recent letter to member states, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote: “The EU has seen a sharp increase in irregular arrivals via the Mediterranean routes and the Western Balkans – the highest numbers since 2016. Migration management is also high on the list of issues , where citizens expect a strong response from the EU.”
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According to the Commission, around 60 percent of asylum seekers have no right to international protection and the reception capacities are overburdened. There can be problems with repatriation, for example, if the home countries deliberately do not issue identity documents for their citizens because they do not want to take people back.
It can also happen that third countries do not recognize documents issued by EU countries. In such cases, repatriation is not possible because airlines will not take the migrants with them. Because many asylum seekers know this, they dispose of or hide their identity documents before they apply, thus making deportations more difficult.
Germany has few allies left when it comes to migration issues
In their paper, the EU states are now promoting a “uniform, comprehensive and effective EU policy” with a view to unwanted migration. She is also campaigning for stronger control of the EU’s external borders. The European Council reaffirms its “unreserved support” for the border protection force Frontex “in the fight against cross-border crime and intensifying the repatriation” of migrants, according to the draft of the summit declaration.
The possibility of using visas to put pressure on third countries has been discussed in Brussels for some time. So far, however, the EU Commission has only proposed applying the visa lever in accordance with Article 25a of the Visa Code for four countries: Bangladesh, Iraq, Gambia and Senegal. The EU states, in turn, only accepted the proposal for Gambia.
The EU Commission says that the purpose of Article 25a is not its application, but above all the threat of it. Cooperation with Bangladesh has already improved.
The article makes it possible to put pressure on countries that do not take back their nationals by issuing visas. For example, the processing time for visa applications could take longer or fees could be increased.
Federal Interior Minister Faeser recently expressed reservations. “I believe that the route via migration agreements is the better one,” said the minister. Such agreements should combine facilitation of legal migration with cooperation on readmission. Germany recently reached an agreement with India on this. More are to follow. Faeser wants to travel to North Africa with her French colleague Gérald Darmanin in the spring.
To date, Faeser has made little progress in the field of returns. In 2022, 12,945 people were deported from Germany. In 2019 there were still more than 22,000. The topic is also difficult for Faeser because it is largely the responsibility of the federal states.
In Brussels, Germany has only a few allies on migration issues – Luxembourg and Portugal, for example. A clear majority of the EU states are now in favor of a tough policy. Anything that contributes to reducing migration numbers is therefore worth considering.
Resistance to the construction of border fences is also decreasing. In the draft conclusions, the Council calls for “the mobilization of EU funds to support Member States in strengthening border control capacities and infrastructure, surveillance assets, including aerial surveillance, and equipment”.
The term fence is not explicitly mentioned. But European aid, for example for surveillance technology, frees up funds in the states on the EU’s external borders, which they can then use to build border fences. In this way, the fortification of the border is financed at least indirectly.
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