Saturday

16th Feb 2019

Agenda

EU-Turkey migrant swap to begin next WEEK

  • As of Monday, irregular migrants who arrive in Greece from Turkey will be sent back (Photo: Fotomovimiento)

All eyes will be on Greece and Turkey on Monday (4 April) when the EU-Turkey migrant swap scheme is due to kick off in earnest.

It will likely be a laborious weekend for some EU staff as they monitor the preparation of the resettlement part of the EU-Turkey deal. As of Monday, irregular migrants who travelled from Turkey to Greece will be sent back, and in exchange EU member states will resettle Syrian refugees from Turkey.

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  • EU Commission vice-president Timmermans will travel to Poland to talk about rule of law (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told journalists Friday that “preparations are now well under way”, and that the plan is going ahead despite criticism from Amnesty International and the United Nations.

Amnesty said Friday Turkey is violating international law in practice by sending asylum seekers back to Syria, while the UN's refugee agency UNHCR also has legal concerns over the deal.

Ahead of the first send-back, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported rising tensions in the registration centres, which Andreeva said the commission was aware of and investigating.

The EU's migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, will travel to Turkey on Monday to oversee the implementation.

On Wednesday (6 April), the commission is expected to present a strategy paper on how to reform the rules on asylum applications. The current legislation says that asylum claims should be made in the first EU country an asylum seeker has entered.

But the system, which had placed a large burden on countries like Italy and Greece, became practically unworkable last year when German chancellor Angela Merkel invited Syrian refugees to come to Germany.

The commission has said the reform of the so-called Dublin regulation should be “based on the objective of solidarity and fair burden-sharing between member states”.

Poland

Next week will also see the EU commission's second-in-command, Frans Timmermans, pay a visit to Poland.

Relations between Brussels and the largest EU member in the east have been strenuous for months, since the Polish government adopted measures that critics say undermine the rule of law.

Timmermans is travelling to Warsaw on the heels of Thorbjorn Jagland, the head of the Council of Europe, an international human rights organisation that has 47 members, including all EU states.

It's this Strasbourg-based body, the Council of Europe, whose Venice Commission recently said Poland's plan to reform the Constitutional Tribunal "would undermine democracy, human rights and the rule of law".

Jagland will meet Polish president Andrzej Duda and prime minister Beata Szydlo, and several ministers, on Monday.

Brussels, post-attacks

Meanwhile, EU activities in Brussels will return to full swing next week after the Easter break. But daily life in the city is not yet completely back to normal after the 22 March terror attacks on its airport and metro.

As of Friday, it is still unclear when Brussels airport will reopen. While the airport is “operationally ready” to reopen, the Belgian government has not yet reached agreement with the airport police, which wants a “100% screening” of people entering the airport.

The city's four metro lines on Friday were still running with a reduced number of stops, and only until 7PM.

The week will likely also see the extradition of terror suspect Salah Abdeslam from Belgium to France.

European Parliament

Several committee meetings scheduled for the week of the attacks in the European Parliament had been postponed.

On Thursday (7 April), the EP's inquiry committee into the Dieselgate scandal will begin its work in earnest, by hearing from the EU commission's directorates-general for industry, environment, and climate.

The committee has been set up to investigate if the EU and member states did enough to discourage car companies like Volkswagen from cheating on emissions testing.

Another committee that was set up in the wake of a scandal will also meet next week.

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager will appear on Monday at the second tax rulings committee. That committee, with less investigative powers than the Dieselgate one, is investigating sweetheart deals governments gave to multinationals which came to light in 2014 in the so-called LuxLeaks scandal.

Also in the parliament: the annual “discharge’ vote in the budgetary control committee. On Monday, MEPs will sign off (or not) on the budgets of 32 EU agencies, and another dozen or so EU institutions.

On Thursday they will do the same for the general budget of the European Commission, which includes the bulk of the EU's funds - agriculture and structural funds - as well as on the European Parliament's own budget.

Meanwhile in Luxembourg, the European Court of Justice will hold a hearing on the legality of a data-sharing agreement between the EU and Canada, as requested by the parliament.

Dutch referendum

The week may also include some news from the Netherlands, as the Dutch vote on Wednesday on an EU-Ukraine association agreement.

The non-binding referendum was triggered after citizens' groups gathered enough signatures, and has been met by some in Brussels with disbelief - why would the Dutch want to vote on an association agreement, of which the EU has concluded several dozens?

Just on Friday, another such treaty with Kosovo came into force.

Although the Dutch government, and most political parties have defended the deal because they say it will be good for the Netherlands and for Ukraine, the real intention of those that forced the referendum came to light a week ahead of the vote.

“You have to understand, we don't care about Ukraine,” the chairman of one of the foundations that gathered signatures told a newspaper in an interview published Thursday (31 March).

What they actually want is an in-out referendum, just like the UK will have in June he said. The group admitted to using “all opportunities to create tensions between the Netherlands and the EU”.

Whether they succeed, and whether the required 30 percent voter turnout will be reached for the result to be valid, will become clear Wednesday evening.

The Dutch rooting for a No in the Ukraine referendum

Next week, the Dutch will cast their opinion on the EU-Ukraine association agreement. While the Yes side is fairly uniform in its composition and logic, the No side is a motley crew. Who are they?

Poland's constitutional dispute escalates

Activists have begun camping outside the prime minister's office in Warsaw after the government refused to recognise a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal.

EU-Turkey deal gets reality check

The EU-Turkey deal that came into force on Sunday has not deterred migrants crossing the Aegean sea on its first day. But it raises many questions as Greek and Turkish legal frameworks still need to be set up.

Greece begins migrant deportations to Turkey

Greece has started sending back migrants to Turkey under the EU deal. The German interior minister suggests similar agreements might be necessary in northern Africa.

Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK

Brexit talks will continue in Brussels, as UK PM Theresa May's government is trying to find a way out of the political impasse at home. Murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee will speak at the European Parliament next week.

News in Brief

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  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK

Brexit talks will continue in Brussels, as UK PM Theresa May's government is trying to find a way out of the political impasse at home. Murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee will speak at the European Parliament next week.

Saudis paying College of Europe to lobby MEPs

The Bruges-based College of Europe is setting up private meetings with the EU institutions for seven ambassadors plus seven high-level officials from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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