EC Proposes Schengen Modifications over Migration Tide

Bulgaria in EU | May 4, 2011, Wednesday // 15:19|  views

European home affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, from Sweden, gestures as she gives a news conference on Migration Policy at the EU headquaters in Brussels, Belgium, 04 May 2010. EPA/BGNES

The European Commission has presented a set of initiatives, including a modification of the Schengen Agreement, to tackle the tide of immigrants caused by the ongoing unrest in the Arab world.

The initiatives providing for "a more structured, comprehensive, rapid-response approach from the EU to the challenges and opportunities of migration, not least in view of the current developments in the Mediterranean", as described by the EC itself, follow demands on behalf of France and Italy, which were a result of the recent vast influx of North African migrants in Italy.

Last week Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy held talks in Rome that ended with a request to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso for changes to Schengen.

The newly announced EC initiatives cover various aspects of migration, including strengthened border control and Schengen governance, completion of the Common European Asylum System, more targeted legal migration, exchange of best practices for successful integration of migrants, and a strategic approach for relations with third countries on migration.

"It is clear that the EU needs a strong common asylum and migration policy. This has only become more evident in recent months, in view of the historic events taking place in North Africa. The EU must live up to its vocation to offer a haven to those in need of protection, and at the same time show solidarity both with the countries in North Africa which are currently sheltering the vast bulk of the migrants from Libya, as well as with those of our Member States faced with the greatest influx of migrants arriving by sea.

"It is also clear that the EU would benefit from some targeted labour immigration in order to help address expected labour shortages in many sectors, and to redress the projected decline in Europe's working age population in the coming years. But migration must at the same time be properly managed – this means ensuring effective border control and the return of irregular migrants. This also means that we should not leave it only up to the Member States at our external borders to deal with extraordinary migratory situations. And this means setting up migration and mobility partnerships with non-EU countries so that we can work together. We must keep these long-term goals in mind also when dealing with the more urgent needs resulting from the turbulence in North Africa", said Cecilia Malmstr?m, European Commissioner responsible for Home Affairs.

She has acknowledged that recent events have also triggered concerns about the functioning of the Schengen system.

"The free movement of people across European borders is a major achievement which must not be reversed, but rather strengthened. That is why the Commission has already proposed a better evaluation mechanism to ensure that the external borders are effectively controlled. To safeguard the stability of the Schengen Area, it may also be necessary to foresee the temporary re-introduction of limited internal border controls under very exceptional circumstances, such as where a part of the external border comes under heavy unexpected pressure", Commissioner Malmstr?m notes.

The EC reminds that the EU has already reacted to these challenges by mobilizing funds to manage the humanitarian emergency generated by the sudden inflows of refugees and displaced persons in the countries neighbouring Libya.

FRONTEX, the EU border control agency, has launched a Joint Operation (EPN Hermes Extension 2011), aimed at helping Italy deal with the situation of migrants and refugees coming to Italian shores. EUROPOL has deployed a team of experts to Italy, to help its law enforcement authorities to identify possible human smugglers among the irregular migrants having reached Italian territory.

Yet, the Commission has recognized the need for a more in-depth and comprehensive approach to the migration issue.

The new measures it proposes focus on completion of the Common European Asylum System by 2012; strengthened border control and Schengen governance to ensure that each Member State effectively controls its part of the EU's external borders in line with the rules and the spirit of EU law; better targeting legal migration into the EU to facilitate the immigration of persons with skills in demand; sharing best practices "for the integration of legal immigrants in the EU, in a manner which will ensure that the economic benefits of immigration are maximised, and so as to ensure social harmony in the Union."

The set of proposals is completed with a strategic approach to relations with third countries on migration-related issues.

The Commission ideas will be debated at the extraordinary Judicial and Home Affairs Council called for May 12, and then at the June 24 European Council.

Since the beginning of the year, there has been a massive displacement of populations from several North African countries, and in particular from Libya. According to the latest estimates, more than 650 000 persons have left the territory of Libya to flee the violence there. Most have fled to Tunisia and Egypt but more than 25 000 migrants, mainly from Tunisia and, to a lesser extent from other African countries, have fled towards the EU, reaching the shores of Italy (most to the Italian island of Lampedusa) and Malta, both of which are now under strong migratory pressure.

In addition to displaced people and migrants, a considerable number of refugees of different nationalities, including Somalis, Eritreans and Sudanese, have left Libya, some of whom have also reached Italy and Malta. These events have put the protection and reception systems of some of the EU Member States under increasing strain.

The EC proposals on how to cope with the rising migration tide comes just a day after he Working Group on Schengen Matters (Sch-Eval) at the Council of EU has unanimously approved the report on Bulgaria's technical preparedness to join the borderless zone.

The decision brings to a final conclusion the technical stage of the assessment of Bulgaria. The next step is to reach the unanimous political approval of the EU ministers of interior and foreign affairs.

Should Bulgaria enter the Schengen Agreement, it will constitute a part of its external border.

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Tags: Schengen Agreement, border control, migrants, external border, Italy, France, Cecilia Malmstrom, illegal immigrants, illegal immigration, Migration, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt


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