Migration: discussions on the "Central Mediterranean Route", EU Travel Information and Authorisation System; Visa Code negotiations 11.5.16

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A leaked document produced by the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the EU proposes various ways to deal with a possible summer increase in people crossing the Mediterranean towards Italy. The Dutch Presidency has also issued a discussion document seeking Member States' views on a possible "EU Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)". Meanwhile, the Council has adopted its position for negotiations with the European Parliament on the EU's Visa Code.


Central Mediterranean Route

NOTE from: Presidency to: Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum: Central Mediterranean Route, 8624/16, 3 May 2016 (pdf)

"Since the closure of the Western Balkans route and the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement, crossings along the Eastern Mediterranean route have drastically decreased. While the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement is being closely monitored and as weather improves, the Central Mediterranean route is re-emerging as the primary source of illegal entry into Europe. Focus should therefore be given to this route in order to prepare the necessary steps to manage migration flows along the route. Both for the short-term, where this paper focuses on the internal aspects. But also and for the medium- to long-term, where credible ways forward have been identified in Valletta and recent contributions by Member States, including Italy’s ‘migration compact’. The European Commission has announced it will come with an communication in June 2016."

The document emphasis the need to follow up on the Valletta Summit:

"developments on the African continent need to be acted upon. The relations with countries of origin in Africa will have to be intensified in line with the outcome of the EU Africa summit on migration in Valletta and the EU strategy for external action on migration. Recent valuable analyses and contributions, such as the Italian proposal for the migration compact, need proper follow-up."

In mid-April, Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders visited Ghana and took the opportunity to call for the implementation of the Valletta Action Plan. See: Netherlands calls for implementation of Valletta Action Plan (Ghana Business News, link). Koenders has also visited Mali where he inquired "into the status of implementation of commitments made at the 2015 summit in Valletta on migration." See: EU representative visits Mali over immigration issues (Africa News, link)

Meanwhile at the beginning of May the French and German foreign ministers, acting on behalf of a mandate given by EU foreign affairs and security chief Federica Mogherini, signed an agreement with Niger that seeks to implement some of the Valletta proposals. Five projects were agreed upon. See: Déclaration conjointe Niger-UE à la suite du Dialogue de Haut Niveau dans le cadre du suivi du Sommet de La Valette : Cinq projets au profit du Niger pour un montant de près de 50 milliards FCFA(Niger Diaspora, link)

For more on the Valletta Summit, see: Valletta Conference 11-12 November 2015 Update: Final texts and full documentation(Statewatch News Online, November 2015)

The Dutch document notes:

"A recent estimate on potential migrants in Libya of around one million, communicated by IOM, was dismissed by most participants. These numbers might be accurate for the total number of third country nationals in Libya, but by no means indicate migrants ready to make a crossing into Europe."

It raises the possibility of cooperation with Egypt on stopping boats, and notes with approval the idea of "floating hotspots":

"This vessel would serve as a staging ground where the different naval operations could transfer the rescued migrants in order to be identified, fingerprinted and rescued. The planned floating hotspot would be able to host up to 1.000 migrants at sea and allow the smaller rescue vessels to quickly redeploy to their respective areas. Migrants would then be disembarked at a facility with available space in a planned and coordinated manner."

This idea was first raised publicly by the Italian interior minister in April: Italy to start fingerprinting migrants at sea (The Local, link)

EU Travel Information and Authorisation System

NOTE from: Presidency to: Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum: Discussion paper on a European electronic travel authorisation system, 8590/16, 3 May 2016 (pdf)

"Both visa obliged and visa exempt travelers are subject to border controls when entering the Schengen area. Visa exempt travelers still need to comply with the conditions for short term stay: no threat to public order and security, valid travel documents, purpose of the visit and sufficient means for their stay. However, the information which in the case of visa obliged travelers is received beforehand in the visa application procedure can now only be obtained at the Schengen
border. This may have an effect on the migration flows towards the Schengen area and on security controls concerning these flows.

The Commission Communication states that an EU Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) could be considered as a future EU tool. With such a system visa-exempt travelers would register relevant information regarding their intended journey via the internet. This would facilitate the border crossing of these third country nationals and increase the effectiveness of the work for the border guards. As a secondary objective, a system could help Law Enforcement Agencies
combatting serious crime and terrorism. The automatic processing of this information could help border guards in their assessment of third-country visitors arriving for a short stay. Although previous studies have been carried out by the Commission, the current context of providing visa liberalisation to an increasing number of third country nationals together with the developments in the area of Smart Borders justifies assessing whether an EU ETIAS is of added value."

According to the document, the Commission will "launch a study about feasibility, proportionality and structural possibilities of an ETIAS shortly," which sounds like a sensible idea. However, the decision to propose the establishment of an ETIAS appears to have been taken - the study is being undertaken "in order to table a proposal before the end of the year."

Visa Code

OUTCOME OF PROCEEDINGS from: Permanent Representatives Committee/Mixed Committee, Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Union code on Visas (Visa Code) (recast) - mandate for negotiations with the European Parliament, 8435/16, 29 April 2016 (pdf)

"At its meeting on 13 April 2016, the Permanent Representatives Committee agreed on the mandate for negotiations with the European Parliament, as set out in the Annex.

The changes vis-à-vis the Commission proposal are highlighted in bold (new text or "(…)" when text has been deleted)."

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