Technical experts from Malta, Italy, Greece and Cyprus met yesterday and Friday in Nicosia, Cyprus to take the first concrete steps toward presenting a common front within the EU on the issue of irregular immigration.
The four states have formed the so-called Quadro Group, aimed at ensuring the momentum gained during the outgoing French EU presidency on addressing the major southern European issue is maintained by the future Czech and Swedish EU presidencies.
The Czech Republic assumes the helm of the EU in January, and will make way for Sweden in July.
Technical officers assembled this weekend in Nicosia were drafting the Quadro Group’s first policy document, which will later be approved by ministers of the four countries and will then be presented to the Council of Ministers.
The Quadro Group is the brainchild of Maltese Justice and Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, and Malta, which is beyond doubt the EU member state most adversely affected by the African migration phenomenon of recent years, has worked hard to get the concept off the ground.
The southern European countries of Malta, Greece, Italy and Cyprus share scores of common issues along such lines – issues that have in the past been met with apathy by central and northern EU member states, from which support and solidarity in dealing with the crisis has been very few and far between.
During a recent visit to Malta, Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba also expressed an interest in joining the group.
The Group’s first ministerial meeting was held at the end of November on the sidelines of the Justice Council in Brussels, where an agreement was reached for the technical teams to meet to discuss a Maltese proposal that the Group could then fine-tune and present to the Council of Ministers.
A number of interesting cards are on the EU table, with the Commission having earlier this month announced its proposals on revamping the Common European Asylum System.
The amendments are the first concrete proposals presented by the Commission to implement its new Policy Plan on Asylum and the Pact on Immigration and Asylum.
Among the most pertinent of the proposals for Malta is the one seeking to suspend the Dublin II system, which has long stood to Malta’s disadvantage, so as not to overburden member states on the front line of the migratory phenomenon.
Current rules stipulate that the EU member state where an asylum seeker first lands is responsible for processing the individual’s asylum application.
The Commission’s proposals, however, seek to establish a mechanism to suspend the Dublin system “in limited circumstances in order to ensure that member states experiencing particular pressure on their asylum systems are not further overburdened because of Dublin transfers”.
They also aim to ensure that asylum-seekers are not sent to member states that cannot offer them an adequate standard of protection, in particular in terms of reception conditions and access to the asylum procedure.
If the proposals come to fruition, it will be possible to transfer migrants currently residing in Malta to other EU member states. The proposals, however, will need to be agreed by all 27 EU member states for them to come into force.