The Malta Independent 21 September 2021, Tuesday

Inefficiencies in cooperation with non-EU countries in returning irregular migrants - ECA

Kevin Schembri Orland Monday, 13 September 2021, 17:03 Last update: about 6 days ago

The EU’s cooperation with non-EU countries has not been efficient in ensuring that migrants illegally present on EU territory, who have not received authorisation to stay, return to their own countries, according to a special report published by the European Court of Auditors (ECA).

During the 2015-2020 period, the EU only achieved limited progress in concluding readmission agreements with non-EU countries, the ECA said. In addition, EU actions have not been streamlined enough to ensure that non-EU countries comply with their readmission obligations in practice.

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“Each year since 2008, about half a million non-EU citizens have been ordered to leave the EU because they had entered it, or were staying, without authorisation. However, less than 1 in 5 actually do return to their own countries outside Europe. One of the reasons for the low number of returning irregular migrants is the difficulty of cooperating with migrants’ countries of origin,” the ECA said.

The EU has therefore already concluded 18 legally binding readmission agreements, and formally opened discussions with six further countries, the ECA added. Recently, it has also negotiated six non-legally binding arrangements for returns and readmissions.

“We expect our audit to feed into the debate on the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum, because an effective and well-managed readmission policy is an essential part of a comprehensive migration policy”, said Leo Brincat, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “Nevertheless, the current EU returns system suffers greatly from inefficiencies that lead to the opposite of the intended effect: encouraging, rather than discouraging, illegal migration.”

While the EU did formally engage in dialogue and launch negotiations with the countries with most non-returned irregular migrants, the auditors note that results for the 2015-2020 period were rather limited.

Negotiations of EU readmission agreements (EURAs) are often jeopardised by persistent sticking points, such as the mandatory inclusion of the “third-country national” clause which is often opposed by non-EU countries, the ECA said.

“In contrast, negotiations of non-legally-binding readmission arrangements have been more successful, mainly because their contents are flexible and customisable.”

Another weakness highlighted by the ECA is the lack of synergies within the EU itself. “The EU has not always spoken with one voice to non-EU countries, and the European Commission has not always associated key Member States in facilitating the negotiations process. As a result, some non-EU countries do not see added value in pursuing a EURA in preference to bilateral cooperation, in particular if they benefit from generous bilateral deals with some EU countries. Nevertheless, when Member States have developed closely aligned positions this proved beneficial in unblocking negotiations and concluding readmission arrangements,” the ECA said.

In addition, the auditors see insufficient progress towards incentivising non-EU countries to implement their readmission obligations. “The Commission has made effective use of financial assistance for projects supporting development, reintegration and capacity-building. But it has struggled to use other policies providing effective support for negotiations, even where it had extensive political and economic relationships. Among the many tools the EU has at its disposal, the auditors identified tangible results only for one: the EU visa policy, whose revised provisions can be helpful in encouraging non-EU countries to cooperate on readmissions.”

The auditors said that, at the same time, the EU has been striving to help the Member States to improve practical cooperation on returns and readmissions, in particular by supporting networks which successfully pooled national resources and by increasing Frontex support for pre-return activities and return operations. “These actions were broadly relevant. However, their real impact remains unknown, as there are a great many weaknesses affecting EU data on returns and readmission cooperation. The data is incomplete, and not fully comparable across Member States.”

The ECA made four recommendations.

The first recommendation is that the Commission should agree with the Council on a more flexible approach in EURA negotiations. The second is that the Commission should create synergies with Member States to facilitate EURA negotiations and readmission arrangements such as by, before launching negotiations, agreeing with Member States on EU and national policies, which could potentially be used as incentives; and by systematically including key Member States in the process of facilitating negotiations with third countries.

The third recommendation is to strengthen incentives for third-country cooperation on readmission. The fourth, is that the Commission should enhance data collection on readmissions and reintegration sustainability.

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