The European Commission announced last Thursday new measures for an efficient EU return policy together with the progress made and must be done by the EU member states on the EU’s relocation and resettlement schemes by September and beyond.
The slow relocation pace of refugees transferred from Greece and Italy to the rest European countries is a fact since only two countries are on track to meet their relocation share. The target to relocate 98.255 immigrants from Italy and Greece by September seems quite promising, not to say impossible, the moment that only 13.546 are transferred and many countries still refuse to participate to this scheme.
However, the EC states that there is no excuse for not delivering on the promises made in September 2015 and intends to fine the member states which will not meet their commitments by next September.
EU relocation figures
According to the EC, the EU member states are committed to resettle 98.255 refugees by September 2017 and not 160.000 since 7.745 from the first Council Decision on relocation have yet to be allocated and because 54.000 from the second Council Decision will be used for resettlement from outside the EU rather than relocation within the EU.
Thus far, France has relocated the largest number of applicants (2.758), followed by Germany (2.626) and the Netherlands (1.486). Only Malta and Finland are on track to meet their obligations for both Italy and Greece. However, Hungary, Austria and Poland are still denying to participate in the scheme whereas Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia are contributing partially.
EU-Turkey agreement still holds
It has been a year and the deal between the EU and Turkey continues delivering results with the number of arrivals to remain at low levels. More specifically, from an average of 1.700 refugees per day arriving in Greece a year ago, the average today stands at 47 according to the EC.
With the EU-Turkey Statement continuing to keep irregular crossings under control, but with arrivals still outpacing returns, the Commission also called on Greece and all Member States to keep up the momentum in implementing the Joint Action Plan to improve the situation in the islands.
But even if progress has been done, there is still fear that the agreement may be dissolved as Turkey is politically unstable and Erdogan seeks for more powers in the next referendum.
Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos stated during a press conference on March 2 that the relocation scheme target can be achieved with the required political will and that the EC will impose fines to the EU member states which will not meet their relocations obligations. More in detail, Dimitris Avramopoulos said that: “There are no more excuses for the Member States not to deliver. It is possible and feasible to relocate all those who are eligible from Italy and Greece by September – the moment when both emergency schemes are supposed to end. This means that it entirely depends on the political will and perseverance of Member States to make it happen. The relocation schemes end in September, but the responsibility of Member States to fulfil their obligations does not end there. It is as if you have an outstanding bill: you have to pay it.”
Despite the above statement, it is unlikely that the EC will impose fines to all the EU member states since almost every country will not manage to reach the relocation targets that were set in September 2015. Thus, the only thing that looks most likely to happen is to postpone the scheme for a “reasonable” period of time after September 2017.
Measures on EU return policy
The EC has presented a new action plan on return and proposes solutions on how to make return procedures more effective. Therefore, the financial aid for national return efforts is increased by 200 million euros in 2017 while information exchange is meant to be improved in order to support return through real time information at national level which will be shared by the Integrated Return Management application. Furthermore, reintegration packages should be ensured to be consistent among the EU member states and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency should offer all the help needed in the return process.
Through this Renewed Action Plan, the EC intends to provide full support to all Member States in order to ensure that irregular refugees are returned quickly and efficiently. As the Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos mentioned last Thursday: “We need to give protection to those in need, but we must also return those who have no right to stay in the EU, in full compliance with the fundamental rights and the principle of non-refoulement. Ensuring that irregular migrants are returned swiftly will not only take pressure off the asylum systems in Member States and ensure appropriate capacity to protect those who are genuinely in need of protection, it will also be a strong signal against taking dangerous irregular journeys to the EU in the first place. With today’s Action Plan and Recommendation, the Commission is providing support to Member States in their efforts to step up returns, as called for by the EU leaders at the Malta Summit.”
Europe fails to reach relocation target
All in all, it is quite obvious that people have lost their faith in the EU and each and every country starts acting and focusing mainly on its national interest. While the EU countries are missing the target of relocating the pre-agreed number of immigrants from Greece and Italy by September, right-wing parties are gaining popularity in Europe which will certainly threaten immigration policies and schemes.