How to monitor the EU's new border security strategy
The European Council of 20-21 October has confirmed the EU’s undaunted resolve to outsource parts of its immigration control policy to third countries.
The trend started initially with the EU-Turkey migration agreement earlier this year, and gained considerable momentum with the recent adoption of the Migration Partnership Framework.
The Framework entails the negotiation of several "migration compacts" with key countries of origin and transit (initially Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ethiopia), backed by significant financial and technical assistance packages.
The aim is to help these countries prevent the illegal migration of their nationals and transit migrants toward the European Union, as well as to increase cooperation on the readmission of irregular migrants already based in the EU.
The outsourcing of key elements of the EU’s border security policy to third countries has generated considerable criticism from several NGOs and migration policy experts.
In the case of the EU-Turkey agreement, a number of commentators have questioned Turkey’s status as a "safe country", not to mention a range of other issues of legality.
In terms of the Migration Partnership Framework, critics have pointed to the dangers of entrusting third countries that sometimes have poor rights records with a major component of the EU’s border security policy.
It has also been stressed that the "human rights conditionality" that had traditionally applied to the granting of EU aid to developing countries may now have been removed and replaced with the exclusive requirement to cooperate actively on migration issues.
Despite the fact that the increased externalisation of the EU’s border management policy has ensued, largely, as a result of the poor inter-state cooperation and the lack of a common migration policy vision within the European Union, as reflected in particular by the failure of the EU relocation and resettlement schemes to date, the success and viability of the new external migration policy will no doubt require that due consideration be given to the mounting concerns it is generating.
Fundamental rights officers
One way of responding to the broadening criticism which is currently weakening the EU’s cooperation strategy with third countries would by developing a fully fledged set of fundamental rights guidelines and monitoring mechanisms to review the EU's compliance with adequate human rights standards, the principle of non-refoulement and fair access to asylum procedures.
Such a fundamental rights strategy and monitoring mechanism would need to be developed and supervised by an independent consultative group that would bring together a range of relevant agencies such as the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and key migrant and human rights NGOs.
The strategy should aim to assess on a continuing basis the observance by the EU migration policy interventions in third countries of established legal instruments and good practices relating to issues such as asylum and appeal procedures, detention standards and readmission and reintegration policies.
In order to support the above monitoring strategy, and drawing also on the Frontex agency’s long-standing experience of responding to similar criticism about its own border surveillance activities, there would be merit in appointing both a full-time fundamental rights officer at the European Commission and local fundamental rights officers in all the EU delegations falling under the scope of the EU-Turkey agreement and the Migration Partnership Framework.
The role of the coordinating fundamental rights officer would be to report to the EU institutions, the member states and key stakeholders on the fundamental rights record of external migration policies.
Local officers, who would complement the work of the immigration liaison officers already deployed in the relevant EU delegations, would be to collect and process day-to-day information on the implementation of the fundamental rights guidelines attached to the EU’s migration policy strategy and operational activities in these countries.
Appeasing the mounting tension
As the external evaluation of Frontex conducted in 2015 has duly evidenced, the role of the fundamental rights officer has been rated very positively by the full range of stakeholders concerned and it has also contributed to increasing Frontex’s focus on the fundamental rights obligations stemming from its activities.
In order to provide the necessary political weight and visibility to the above strategy, the drafting of a dedicated European Commission communication on the fundamental rights implications of the EU’s external migration policy, to be developed in consultation with the full range of stakeholders concerned, would also contribute to appeasing the mounting tension between the EU executive and a wide range of external migration policy entities.
The development of such a monitoring mechanism, or any suitable variation of it, now appears imperative. It will not necessarily contribute to the success of the new migration cooperation policy strategy with third countries, but the absence of a comprehensive fundamental rights auditing tool will most certainly undercut or blur the future outcomes of the strategy.
In view of the number of largely aborted policy attempts to manage the EU’s external borders unilaterally since 2015, it is now essential that the new external migration policy strategy should at least be offered a favourable and consensual environment in which to test its effectiveness.
Solon Ardittis is managing director of Eurasylum and a research fellow at the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA). He is also co-editor of ‘Migration Policy Practice’, a bimonthly journal published jointly with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).