EU moves closer to setting up asylum agency

Plans for an EU asylum agency to help tackle the still unfolding migration crisis in Europe have moved a step closer.

Refugee arrivals | Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

21 Dec 2016


It comes after EU diplomats, at a meeting on Tuesday, gave the green light for talks with Parliament to commence early in the New Year.

The agency will assess all aspects of the common asylum policy, such as reception conditions, respect for procedural safeguards, the right to legal aid and access to interpretation, and adequacy of financial and human resources.

After the meeting, Robert Kaliňák, Minister for the interior of Slovakia, current holder of the rotating EU presidency, said, "To tackle irregular migration and to improve the management of the asylum systems requires action on various fronts. This includes the transformation of the European asylum support office (EASO) into a proper EU agency for asylum."


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He added, "Today, the Council is taking an important step in that direction, as we have an agreement on the main building blocks of the agency. 

"Our objective is to ensure that it can support the member states in implementing the common European asylum system and provide technical and operational assistance." 

The proposal for an agency, he noted, aims to “build on the work of the current EASO."

Approval for negotiations to start comes after MEPs recently said the agency must coordinate information exchange among member states and ensure they protect fundamental rights.

Parliament's civil liberties committee backed the agency, saying it will provide the means to assist member states in crisis situations and monitor how national authorities apply EU legislation.

The agency, the committee was told, will rely on an "asylum intervention pool", formed by no less than 500 experts contributed by member states, who could be deployed in cases where the asylum and reception systems of an EU country are subject to "disproportionate pressure".

Hungarian S&D group MEP Peter Niedermüller said it will also have a fundamental rights officer, in charge of managing the newly-created complaint mechanism and monitoring and ensuring respect for fundamental rights in all the agency's activities.

One of the questions it will address concerns how to manage flows which have consistently been above 150,000 per year in the last three years.

Irregular migration to Europe by Africans has climbed in 2016, as the number of migrants using the central Mediterranean route from Libya to Italy has increased by 13 per cent, according to the EU border agency Frontex. 

The last 12 months have seen a flourishing of new initiatives, starting with the EU trust fund and the migration partnerships fund.

Among the first beneficiaries of the trust fund have been the priority countries recently indicated by the European Commission. The main recipient is Niger, the only state receiving more than €100m in allocated projects for 2016. It is followed by Ethiopia (€97m) and Mali (€91.5m).

 

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