19 February 2016

EU heads of state and government agreed to ‘rapidly stem the flows’ of refugees and migrants, protect the EU’s external borders, reduce illegal [sic] migration and safeguard the integrity of the Schengen area, during their Council summit in Brussels on 18-19 February.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, told a nightshift press conference that Member States had reaffirmed their commitment to the relocation system. The European Council concludes that ‘all elements agreed last December should be implemented rapidly, including the decisions on relocation and measures to ensure returns and readmissions.’

In addition, the Council ‘welcomes NATO’s decision to assist in the conduct of reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of illegal crossings in the Aegean Sea and calls on all members of NATO to support this measure actively. The EU, in particular FRONTEX, should closely cooperate with NATO.’

Conclusions on Turkey remain quite vague, but Donald Tusk, President of the EU Council announced that there will be an extraordinary meeting with Turkey early March. EU home affairs ministers are also due to meet before the EU leaders meet again mid-March. Meanwhile, they call on Turkey to prevent people from irregularly crossing into Greece.

“The full and speedy implementation of the EU-Turkey Action Plan remains a priority, in order to stem migration flows and to tackle traffickers and smugglers networks. Steps have been taken by Turkey to implement the Action Plan, notably as regards access by Syrian refugees to Turkey’s labour market and data sharing with the EU. However, the flows of migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey remain much too high. We need to see a substantial and sustainable reduction of the number of illegal entries from Turkey into the EU. This calls for further, decisive efforts also on the Turkish side to ensure effective implementation of the Action Plan,” they conclude.

In an interview with the EU Reporter, ECRE Secretary General Catherine Woollard urged all parts of Europe to fully assume their responsibilities for ensuring protection of refugees. She said closing borders was not a solution, nor deporting people back to Turkey, where fundamental rights of refugees and migrants are not protected and access to labour market and education is limited for refugees.

“The concrete measures we would like to see, firstly, we need to see a stop to the building of fences. This doesn’t act as a disincentive, given that people are fleeing from an ultra-violent conflict that shows no signs of abating. Secondly, the only real solution here is a large-scale resettlement, and that would allow people to come directly to Europe rather to having to use the deadly sea routes, as is currently the case. Last year, around 4,000 people died in Europe’s seas and this will continue,” she said in the interview.

Some members of the European Parliament showed disappointments with the summit. ‘It doesn’t make sense to organise a summit if you do not intend to solve anything’ said Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the ALDE group. Green member Ska Keller said the summit has given EU Member States a ‘carte blanche’ to close borders.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 19 February 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.