Thursday

23rd May 2019

Agenda

Refugees, asylum and data protection This WEEK

  • EU leaders will try to agree on the plan proposed by Turkish prime minister Davutoglu (r) and German chancellor Angela Merkel (l) (Photo: Turkish PM office)

This week EU leaders hope they will agree on a long-term common response to the refugee crisis.

 On Thursday and Friday they will meet in Brussels for a regular European Council following last Monday's (7 March) extraordinary summit with Turkey.

After a surprise Turkish plan largely inspired by Germany was put on the table, the EU and Turkey agreed on the principle of a "one-to-one" scheme by which for every migrant sent from Greece back to Turkey the EU would resettle a refugee from the camps in Turkey.

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In exchange to that plan designed to stop the flow the uncontrolled of migrants to Europe, the EU would give €3 billion more to Turkey to accommodate refugees. It would also accelerate the visa liberalisation process, with visa requirements for Turks going to the Schengen area lifted at the end of June, and open up to five chapters in Turkey's accession negotiations.

At this week's summit, Europeans and Turks want to sort out the details and definitively adopt the plan.

Doubts and resistance

But doubts have grown over the legality of the plan, mainly over the respect of the Geneva Convention on refugees.

On 8 March, the UN High commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi told the European Parliament that he was "deeply concerned about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone".

In addition, some EU countries are wary of granting Turkey everything it asked for.

At the 7 March summit, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban said he would veto any plan for resettling refugees, although he was not clear how he could oppose a plan that would be on a voluntary basis.

After the summit, Austria has said it did not agree with accelerating visa liberalisation only days after the Turkish government took over the country's main newspaper.

Cyprus has threatened to block the opening of accession chapters, with president Nikos Anastasiades telling the Financial Times he would "never give [his] consent because otherwise [he would] have no other choice but to not return back home".

Cyprus-Turkey relations have been difficult because of the Turkish occupation of the Northern part of Cyprus and a dispute over the refugee plan could have consequences on talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots to reunify the island.

European Council president Donald Tusk will go to Nicosia on Tuesday (15 March) to meet Anastasiades and try to ease tensions ahead of the summit.

The EU summit will also certainly be influenced by Sunday's elections results in three German states. Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, the CDU, lost ground in what was considered as a punishment for its refugee policies.

The anti-immigration AfD party got between 12.4 and 24.3 percent and came ahead of the social-democrats in two states. These results will put more pressure on Merkel to find a solution to reduce the numbers of refugees coming to Europe.

Asylum

Ahead of the summit, on Wednesday (16 March), the European Parliament will present its own plan on migration and refugee policies. Two MEPs, social-democrat Kashetu Kyenge and centre-right Roberta Metsola, are rapporteurs for the plan, which will include a proposal to establish a centralised EU system for collecting and allocating asylum requests, plus binding relocation and resettlement schemes for refugees.

This proposal could be similar to the proposal the European Commission will present also on Wednesday to reform the Dublin system of asylum. According to reports, the commission will propose to give the European Asylum Support Office more powers into order to centralise asylum requests .

Since the Dublin system started in 1997, the first EU member state that registers an asylum seeker is responsible for the process. Critics say it has laid more burden on some countries, like Italy and Greece. And despite repeated claims by the commission that "Dublin is alive", the refugee crisis has made it obsolete.

Data protection

This week, MEPs will debate the so-called Privacy Shield, the accord on personal data protection between the US and the EU.



Privacy Shield is replacing the Safe Harbour agreement, which was struck down by the European Court of Justice last autumn in a case brought by Austrian activist Max Schrems against Facebook. The court found that Safe Harbour did not provide enough safeguards.

The new text, which the commission says "will ensure the right checks and balances for our citizens", still allows bulk data collection.



On Thursday, the European Parliament's civil liberties committee should hear the two commissioners in charge of the issue, Andrus Ansip and Vera Jourova, the US lead negotiator, the European data protection supervisor and civil society representatives including Schrems.

Russia and Libya

Russia will be on the EU agenda when foreign affairs ministers on Monday (14 March) hold an orientation debate on EU-Russia relations.

Sanctions over the war in Ukraine should not be the main issue. But several countries - the UK, Lithuania, Romania, Sweden and Poland - are expected to call for resolute action from the EU to demand the liberation of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko.

The EU has said that Savchenko is being illegally detained by Russia after she was captured in Eastern Ukraine in June 2014. At her trial last week, she held a hunger and thirst strike for several days.

Foreign ministers will also discuss the situation in Libya, where the EU is still trying to push for a national unity government in face of a threat from the Islamic State militant group.

Last week, France's foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that the situation was "not only a danger for the Libyans, but the region and it threatens Europe". He said he did not exclude threatening [Libyan politicians] with sanctions.

Also on Monday, agriculture ministers are meeting in Brussels to discuss which EU-wide measures could be taken to help struggling farmers.

Opinion

EU-Turkey refugee deal doesn't add up

The EU-Turkey "one-for-one" resettlement deal doesn't make sense and won't work. But at least it puts the principle of resettlement in the fore of EU policy.

EU votes on future leaders This WEEK

The political spotlight switches from Brussels to national capitals and regions this week as Europe gears up for the start of European Parliament elections on Thursday

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Analysis

EU should stop an insane US-Iran war

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