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Brussels, 17 June 2008
What has been done so far at EU level in the area of asylum policy?
In 1999 the EU Heads of State and Government meeting in Tampere called for the establishment of a Common European Asylum System. Since then, asylum has been considered an issue to be tackled at EU level. Indeed, in a Union with no borders, it makes sense to harmonise conditions for asylum seekers and avoid that one country is seen as more attractive than others. This will reduce unwarranted secondary movements; asylum seekers will no longer have the impression that some Member States have a more generous - or restrictive - attitude than others.
During the first phase of the establishment of the Common European Asylum System (1999-2005) an important number of legislative measures harmonising common minimum standards in the area of asylum were adopted. The four more important legislative instruments are without doubt the Directive on Reception Conditions for asylum-seekers, the Directive on the Qualifications for becoming a refugee or a person needing international protection; the Asylum Procedures Directive, and the so-called 'Dublin II' Regulation, which determines which Member State is responsible for examining an asylum application. Another Directive has created a framework for offering temporary protection in case of mass influx of displaced persons. Financial solidarity between the Member States was also promoted with the establishment of the European Refugee Fund, which later became an inspiration for developing other financial instruments in the immigration and borders area.
What is the current situation concerning asylum in the EU? Trends and problems
The main factors driving people out of their home countries and forcing them to seek protection elsewhere are political instability, lack of respect for human rights, poor rule of law, undemocratic regimes, wars and civil conflicts. Although most refugees remain in the region close to their countries of origin, many seek protection in the EU. In 2007 approximately 220.000 people applied for asylum in the EU. This historically low figure nevertheless represents an increase by 12% compared to 2006.
[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]
A number of problems have been identified in the area of asylum:
The existing common minimum standards for asylum, agreed at EU level, leave a wide margin of discretion to the Member States as to their application. This does not guarantee equality of protection across the EU.
Why is the Commission presenting a Policy Plan on Asylum?
The Hague Programme, agreed in November 2004 by the Heads of State and Government, called for the establishment of the second phase of the Common European Asylum System, during which, among other objectives, a common procedure, a uniform status for protected persons, more practical cooperation between the Member States' administrations and an increased support to third countries hosting large refugee populations should be achieved.
The Policy Plan adopted today sets clearly the direction the Commission wishes to give to the future asylum policy of the European Union. It is based on the goals of the Hague Programme, as well the main orientations identified during the consultation process launched by a Green Paper in June 2007. The document lists all the measures the Commission intends to take in the coming years in order to complete the second phase of the Common European Asylum System but it does not contain the precise proposals, which will presented between this year and 2010.
The provisions of the Geneva Convention on Refugees and the full respect of the Charter of Fundamental Rights will be a constant reference for any measure to be proposed by the Commission.
Which principles should guide asylum policy in the EU?
The Commission believes that the following principles should guide the EU's asylum policy:
What types of measures are proposed in the Policy Plan?
The measures proposed in the Policy Plan are grouped around three pillars:
When will these proposals take effect?
Most of the legislative proposals described will be made by the European Commission in the second half of 2008 and during 2009, with a few being presented in 2010. The proposals will be negotiated by qualified majority voting in the Council and co-decision with the European Parliament, which will ensure democratic control.
Based on the experience gained in the negotiations of the first phase, it is to be expected that negotiations on the new proposed initiatives will take some time, after which the normal transposition period (2 years) will be allowed. However, certain non-legislative measures could be adopted and implemented more quickly, especially those regarding practical cooperation between national asylum administrations, or external aspects of the asylum policy.
In the meantime, existing EU measures in the area of asylum must continue to be correctly implemented by Member States. The European Commission will closely monitor that Member States fully respect their obligations under the existing asylum acquis.