EU Heads of State and Government met today in Brussels to discuss migration and asylum policies in the aftermath of the latest tragedies in the Mediterranean that left at least 360 migrants dead.

In its conclusions, the European Council underlined the importance of “addressing root causes of migration flows by enhancing cooperation with the countries of origin and transit, including through appropriate EU development support and an effective return policy”.

The European Council called for stepping up the fight against trafficking and smuggling of human beings, the swift implementation of the new European border surveillance system Eurosur, and the reinforcing of the activities of Frontex in the Mediterranean and the south-eastern borders of the EU. The Council conclusions did not refer to the proposed rules on interception at sea during Frontex operations that have faced opposition from the governments of Malta, Italy, Cyprus, Greece, Spain and France. The Council conclusions also did not discuss the possibility of increasing legal channels for entering the EU for people fleeing violence and persecution.

The European Council urged the Task Force for the Mediterranean led by the European Commission to identify operational proposals to ensure more efficient use of existing policies and tools. The Commission will report to the Council at its meeting on 5-6 December on the work of the Task Force with a view of taking operational decisions and the Council commits to address asylum and migration issues in a longer-term policy perspective in June 2014.

According to President of the Council Herman Van Rompuy, “all leaders agree to shared responsibility with the Member States most affected by migration flows” but did not specify which measures this could involve.

Ahead of discussions on migration by EU Heads of State and Government, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a Resolution recommending the creation of a mechanism based on objective criteria to reduce the pressure on those Member States receiving higher numbers of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection, in either absolute or proportional terms.

In its Resolution, the EP also calls on the EU and its Member States to establish profiling and referral mechanisms, including access to fair and efficient asylum procedures for those who may be in need of international protection. These proposed mechanisms are based on the understanding that disembarkation does not necessarily imply sole responsibility on the part of the state on whose territory people rescued at sea are disembarked. Regarding further steps to strengthen solidarity, Member States are encouraged to assume responsibility for the asylum claims of people who are at risk of being unable to enjoy access to their rights in certain Member States and to bring extended family members together even if the examination of these asylum claims is not their responsibility under the criteria laid down in the Dublin Regulation.

The Parliament has supported the Commission’s proposal ‘to deploy a search-and-rescue operation from Cyprus to Spain’ and calls on the co-legislators to agree swiftly on new rules for Frontex-coordinated operations “in order to achieve effective and coordinated rescue measures at EU level”. The Parliament’s recommendations include increasing funding for EASO and Frontex.

MEPs also encouraged Member States to engage further on resettlement and humanitarian admission.

“Unless Europe’s approach to asylum and immigration changes, it won’t only be the migrants but the EU that drowns off Lampedusa,” said Lampedusa Mayor Giusi Nicolini in Brussels ahead of the European Council meeting.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 25 October 2013
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