Monday

4th Mar 2024

Rift widens on 'returns' deadline in EU migration pact

  • The European Commission's proposal on sponsored returns is not accepted by both southern 'recipient' states and the Visegrad Four (Photo: Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI))

The European Commission's proposed key to breaking a stalemate over member states' solidarity in its new migration pact is causing member states headaches.

In an attempt to overhaul the EU's asylum and migration system, the European Commission last September proposed allowing capitals to deport people instead of having to take in those granted asylum.

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For example, instead of taking in a person already granted international protection by Athens, France would "sponsor" the return of a failed asylum seeker in Greece back to their country of origin.

But should France fail after eight months, then that individual would be sent to France from Greece.

France would then have to carry out the return from its own territory.

However, some EU states appear to be pressing to shorten this eight-month deadline.

Malta is demanding it drop to six months, while EUobserver understands some other southern member states are proposing to shorten it further.

Meanwhile, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain late last year also formulated a joint position where they appeared sceptical of the European Commission's return-sponsorship plan.

Instead, they want to share and divide up those already granted asylum from their country among the other EU states.

"The notion of mandatory relocation should remain and be pursued as the main solidarity tool," they wrote.

But such mandatory relocation is an anathema to the Visegrad Four, composed of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic.

The four also do not like the return-sponsorship idea.

"It might be misleading – and will likely result in the redistribution of illegal migrants who do not have the right to remain in the EU," they said, in a joint statement, also signed by Estonia and Slovenia.

However, it was notable that Slovakia did not join the Visegrad leaders in denouncing the EU's migration pact proposal, in a signal of possible splits.

These countries also have limited international diplomatic clout to convince the migrant's country of birth to take them back.

Between 2017 and 2019, the Czech Republic had an effective return rate of 13 percent - way below the EU average.

Austria and Denmark are also not keen on return sponsorships.

Meanwhile, France may not want to spend its political capital to return migrants to former colonies in Africa on the behalf of another member state.

Given the complications on return sponsorships, some believe relocations may simply be a better option.

Similar comments were made in a recent analysis by the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank.

It noted that more than 70 percent of total bilateral readmission agreements concluded between EU and African countries are comprised of France, Italy and Spain.

"Whether the EU countries with stronger diplomatic links with key countries of origin will be willing to leverage them for a common European objective is still an open question," it warned.

A fragmented legal jurisprudence is also complicating the issue.

Germany is returning people back to Afghanistan, while courts in France are preventing authorities from doing the same.

Internal paper lays out EU splits on 'returning' migrants

An internal document from January outlines the divisions among EU states when it comes the European Commission's proposal on "return sponsorships". Although positions may have since shifted, the document provides a glimpse into the Council's thinking.

Netherlands against more rights for rejected asylum-seekers

A leaked Council document provides a partial overview of member state positions on a new EU strategy on voluntary returns and reintegration. The Dutch are concerned any new legal framework on voluntary returns could lead to greater rights.

EU commission calls Frontex its new 'Return Agency'

The EU's law enforcement agency Frontex has been helping member states return unwanted migrants. The European Commission now wants it to take a lead role, while hoping to boost the number of voluntary deportations.

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