Closer practical cooperation
This Commission Communication proposes enhancing practical cooperation between Member States' asylum authorities. Establishing cooperation of this kind, which is part of the second phase of the Common European Asylum System, will enable these authorities to become familiar with the practices of others and to develop closer working relations among themselves.
Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on strengthened practical cooperation - New structures, new approaches: improving the quality of decision making in the common European asylum system [COM(2006) 67 - not published in the Official Journal].
The Commission feels that practical cooperation will enable asylum services to become familiar with the practices of others and to develop closer working relations. The main goal is to improve convergence in decision-making in this area.
The European Union (EU) aims to provide asylum authorities with a "common tool box". The Commission feels that, through using the same tools and applying the same safeguards, Member States will also build trust and confidence in each others' systems and achieve greater consistency in practice.
Such trust and confidence is needed if we are to establish a Single Procedure. The Commission's Single Procedure Communication proposed a range of actions which could be taken to enable greater convergence between Member States and ensure that all applications for protection in the EU are covered by the same procedural guarantees. Single Procedure activities should be aimed at:
- identifying where changes need to be made in Member States' administrative practice in order to implement the first-stage instruments;
- assessing how the quality and efficiency of asylum systems can be improved through including all possible grounds for protection in one decision;
- identifying best practice in managing resources in a Single Procedure.
The Commission's intention is to improve the collection and processing of Country of Origin Information (COI) as this is central to the asylum decisions taken by Member States. COI enables the asylum authorities of Member States to verify statements made by applicants concerning their need for protection and to establish whether the applicant should benefit from international protection.
In order to enhance cooperation between Member States' asylum authorities, the Commission proposes to:
- establish common guidelines on the production of COI;
- establish a "common portal" to Member States' COI databases;
- find a pragmatic solution to the translation difficulties facing Member States in dealing with COI from different sources.
The result of these activities should lead in the longer term to the future development of an EU COI database.
The Commission also intends to propose the establishment of an asylum cooperation network which it would manage itself. The aim of such a network will be to:
- improve convergence in asylum policies;
- contribute to the harmonised implementation of the first stage of the Common European Asylum System;
- lay the foundations for the establishment of a fully fledged Common European Asylum System.
It will provide a systematic basis for exchanging information, promoting best practice and establishing a repository of expertise.
The Hague Programme says that the structures involved in practical cooperation should be transformed into a European support office for all forms of cooperation between Member States relating to the Common European Asylum System.
At this stage the Commission feels that the European support office could be given a technical support function for the operation of the COI "common portal" and an EU COI database. It could also incorporate a training facility on all aspects related to the application of the Common European Asylum System. The office would also coordinate responses to particular pressure situations.
As practical cooperation expands, demands relating to the coordination of Member States' activities may exceed the capacity of the future asylum cooperation network. The Commission considers that cooperation activities will soon acquire a critical mass, requiring a more structured devolution of technical functions. The Commission will report early in 2008 on the progress achieved. On the basis of this report, a feasibility study will be carried out on the establishment of a European support office.
In addition to the specific mandate of the asylum cooperation network, some asylum activities could be carried out by the Commission, making use of the advice of expert groups such as the Eurasil network.
The Commission also points out that asylum burdens could be felt disproportionately by a few Member States. While the Temporary Protection Directive provides for solidarity between Member States in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons, it does not provide an adequate response to the kind of particular pressure on asylum services and reception capacities experienced by Member States.
To improve this situation, the Commission proposes:
- amending the European Refugee Fund so that Member States can quickly access funds for emergency actions;
- streamlining the procedure contained in the ARGO programme enabling quicker access to funding for urgent actions;
- setting up expert teams to address reception and processing issues for sudden arrivals of large numbers at the external border of the EU.
Longer-term options include a comprehensive assessment of particular pressure situations which have occurred in the past and the setting up of a network of Member State information officers in selected third countries.
The Commission also proposes to focus on training of asylum service personnel. The agreement of key principles of good practice for administrative acts such as interviewing and decision making would provide a firm basis for the development of a European curriculum leading to even greater convergence in practice and administrative methods.
The first wave of practical cooperation will encourage Member States to present projects together with other like-minded Member States. The Commission feels that such actions must be supported, but points out that existing financial opportunities, through the ARGO Programme and the Community Actions of the European Refugee Fund, do not provide the flexibility or increased funding needed. To address this shortfall, the Commission therefore intends to make proposals to amend the ERF and the ARGO Programme to ensure that delivery of the Hague priorities can be supported.
With the adoption on 1 December 2005 of the Asylum Procedures Directive, the first phase of the Common European Asylum System was completed. The deadline set by the Hague Programme for the completion of the second phase of the establishment of the Common European Asylum System - establishing a common asylum procedure - is 2010.
In this programme, the European Council also called for the establishment of appropriate structures involving the national asylum services of the Member States with a view to facilitating practical cooperation. Such cooperation constitutes a common approach through administrative consistency and the sharing of expertise, resources and knowledge. The Hague Programme says that these structures should be transformed into a European support office for all forms of cooperation between Member States relating to the Common European Asylum System.