Wednesday

28th Jul 2021

Leaders set to agree to common visa regime

Thursday's agenda of the European Council that began in Porto Carras, close to the city of Thessaloniki, was dominated by discussions on external borders control and asylum policy.

Although all sides agreed that asylum policy must be improved, a consensus on the British proposal for asylum camps outside the EU territory could not be reached. Germany and Sweden remained staunchly opposed to the controversial proposals.

Progress

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However, Commission president Romano Prodi stated there was "great progress on coherent policies on immigration and asylum".

Greek premier Costas Simitis said "step by step we are coming out with an immigration policy".

In its proposals for the European summit the Commission suggested measures to toughen up visa policy.

The new Visa Information System proposed by Brussels would include biometric identifiers (including iris scanning and fingerprints) to lead to "overall efficiency of the system". Several member states have already backed the blueprint.

A "coherent approach is needed in the EU on biometric identifiers" says the draft Presidency conclusion document, seen by the EUobserver on Friday morning. This move by the EU has been widely anticipated by Washington who would otherwise introduce visas for all EU citizens, a senior EU diplomat warned.

If adopted by the EU leaders, the EU-wide visa could be introduced from autumn next year as well as harmonised national passports and a common information system all over the Union.

The draft conclusion also paves the way for creation of "Community operational structure" to deal with external boarder management.

Some of the new members now fear that the next changes into the system could bring further postponements in their attempts to join the visa-free Schengen (open borders) area.

Although extending the Community’s influence on external boarders protection seems to be unlikely in the near future, Germany and France are pushing for the creation of another EU agency supplied with its own budget to hold keep an eye of initiatives and co-ordinate this policy area on European level - a step forward compared to the current Common EU Unit for External Borders.

Polish minister for Foreign Affairs Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz believes the controversial UK proposal will not be included in the Presidency Conclusion document, despite the fact that it has been watered down.

However, diplomatic sources indicate that the Council will give a green light for such an initiative to held on the national level.

Caution

In an article for the Guardian on Friday, UN refugee chief Rudd Lubbers emphasised that proposed processing centres must be within the EU’s own borders and "bound by EU legal standards".

He urged the EU to work on readmission agreements with refugees’ 'countries of origin', "so that people are not detained for months or years simply because they cannot be deported".

Mr Lubbers also called on the EU to step up joint action and set up a "single asylum space".

Iris scanning in European passports being prepared

As early as 2005 traditional European passports could be replaced by a new set of identification measures including biometric information (fingerprints, iris scans or DNA). EU justice and home affairs ministers are expected to discuss the topic at an informal meeting in Rome next month.

Frontex chief: 'about time' MEPs probe his agency

Some 14 MEPs have created a group to probe allegations of rights abuse by the EU's border agency Frontex. Its head, Fabrice Leggeri, welcomed its creation and said it "is about time".

Romania denies forcing migrant-boat back to Turkish waters

Romania's ministry of internal affairs wrote to Frontex claiming it did not engage in any illegal pushbacks of people on rubber boats into Turkish territorial waters. The country says it followed EU engagement rules and Greek orders.

LGBTI fears over new Polish member at EU institution

A letter sent to the European Economic and Social Committee by a group of cross-party MEPs fighting for LGBTi rights expresses fears that a recently-appointed Polish member may try to undermine those rights.

EU condemns Slovenian PM's harassment of journalist

Slovenia's populist prime minister Janez Janša attempted to discredit a Brussels reporter after she published a critical article about the state of media freedoms in the country. The European Commission condemned the PM's language - but refrained from naming him.

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