EU: Member States enthusiastic about Commission's "how low can you go?" deportation recommendations

Member States enthusiastic about Commission's "how low can you go?" deportation recommendations
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The EU's Member States have given a warm welcome to recent proposals from the European Commission to lower human rights standards in order to increase the number of deportations, according to the secret minutes of a meeting of one of the Council's migration working parties which Statewatch is publishing here in full.

See: Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum (SCIFA), Summary of discussions on 14 March 2017 (7486/17, LIMITE, 22 March 2017, pdf)

According to the Council's record of the 14 March meeting of the Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum:

"Both the revised EU Action Plan [on a more effective return policy in the European Union] and the Commission’s Recommendation [on making returns more effective] were generally well received by Member States."

Recommendations to undermine human rights standards

The Commission's recommendations propose, among other things, for Member States to "bring detention capacity in line with actual needs, including by using where necessary the derogation for emergency situations," to use "the shortest possible deadline for lodging appeals against return decisions as provided for in national law," and not to "preclude in their national legislation the possibility to place minors in detention, where this is strictly necessary to ensure the execution of a final decision."

A statement signed by 90 civil society organisations (including Statewatch) said in response to the Commission's proposals that:

"[T]he Commission document puts forward an interpretation of human rights that effectively undermines them. It urges member states to detain migrants more quickly and for longer periods of time, and presents increased returns as a key deterrent to migration. The results of such policies are expected to be a weakening of human rights safeguards in the return and the asylum process.

The linking of asylum to return, as well as the explicit targeting of specific nationalities of asylum seekers accused of «abusing» the asylum system is shocking."

Member States will look into the recommendations "positively"

However, it seems that the Commission was perhaps behind the times in proposing to lower standards to the bare minimum possible under EU law, because in the meeting of the Working Party on Frontiers:

"many delegations [stressed] that the recommendations had already been implemented to a large degree by Member States or [stated] their willingness to look into them positively."

The minutes go on to say that:

"Several delegations commented, in particular, the Commission recommendation regarding the possible extended use of detention in order to avoid absconding."

What exactly this means is unclear, but in any case identifying exactly which Member states those delegations represent will require further work on the part of civil society organisations, journalists and others, because - as always - the Council's record of the meeting names no Member States in particular. A useful starting point may be the national laws used to implement the Returns Directive, which can be found on the Eur-Lex website.

The minutes of the meeting also record an intervention from Frontex, whose representative stepped in to present "the list of return-related services it may offer to Member States," while a number of national delegations "emphasised the lack of cooperation by third countries as being the main obstacle to increasing the return rates."

The minutes also note that "some delegations... expressed some discontent as to the success of the Partnership Framework," in which the Commission and a number of Member States are attempting to cajole primarily northern and sub-Saharan African states into accepting an increased number of deportations by threatening to diminish or cut off trade and aid ties.

At the JHA Council meeting on 27 March Member States' interior ministers held a further discussion on the Commission's recent proposals.

The public record of the meeting (pdf) is rather more circumspect than the minutes of Working Party on Frontiers' mid-March meeting, stating that:

"The Council’s discussion centred on two aspects – the external side: improving cooperation by third countries on readmission, and the internal side: making sure the right procedures and systems are in place for effective returns. The discussions enabled ministers to offer guidance for further technical level work on these issues."

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