European Parliament briefings: Returns Directive, common asylum procedure, pushbacks at the external borders


Three recent briefings published by the European Parliament Think Tank look at key current issues in proposed EU migration and asylum legislation: the proposal to recast the 2008 Returns Directive, governing deportations from the EU; the recent proposal for a common asylum procedure; and pushbacks at the external borders.

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Recasting the Return Directive (pdf)

The Return Directive is the main piece of EU (European Union) legislation governing the procedures and criteria to be applied by Member States when returning irregularly staying third-country nationals, and a cornerstone of EU return policy. Taking into account the decrease in the EU return rate (from 45.8 % in 2016 to 29 % in 2019) and following European Council and Council calls to review the 2008 legal text to enhance the effectiveness of EU return policy, in September 2018 the Commission proposed a targeted recast of the directive aiming to 'reduce the length of return procedures, secure a better link between asylum and return procedures, and ensure a more effective use of measures to prevent absconding'. In the 2014-2019 parliamentary term, whereas the Council reached a partial general approach on the proposal, the European Parliament did not reach a position. A draft report was presented to the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) but was not adopted. After the 2019 elections, Parliament decided to resume work on the proposal. A new draft report was published on 21 February 2020, but it was not presented in the LIBE committee until 10 September 2020 on account of delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The deadline for tabling amendments expired on 23 September 2020 and the LIBE committee is currently considering the 754 amendments tabled. Third edition. The 'EU Legislation in Progress' briefings are updated at key stages throughout the legislative procedure.

For an earlier, more detailed critique of the proposed recast Returns Directive, see: The revised Returns Directive: a dangerous attempt to step up deportations by restricting rights (September 2019)

Common procedure for asylum (pdf)

As part of the common European asylum system (CEAS), the Asylum Procedures Directive sets out procedures for Member States for granting and withdrawing international protection in accordance with the Qualification Directive. Following the large influx of asylum-seekers to the European Union after 2014, the directive came under criticism for being too complex and for leaving Member States too broad discretion, leading to differences in treatment and outcomes. On 13 July 2016, as part of the reform of the CEAS, the Commission published a proposal to replace the current directive with a regulation establishing a common procedure for international protection applicable in all participating Member States. The choice of a directly applicable regulation is expected to bring about harmonisation of the procedures, ensuring same steps, timeframes and safeguards across the EU. The 2016 proposal having reached deadlock, the Commission proposed an amended regulation on 23 September 2020 under its new pact on asylum and migration, suggesting targeted amendments to help overcome certain contentious issues relating in particular to the border procedure and return. The amended proposal is currently being examined by the co-legislators with a view to fixing their positions in order to resume trilogue negotiations shortly. Fourth edition. The 'EU Legislation in Progress' briefings are updated at key stages throughout the legislative procedure.

Pushbacks at the EU's external borders (pdf)

In recent years, the migration policy of the European Union (EU) has focused on strict border controls and the externalisation of migration management through cooperation with third countries. Although states have the right to decide whether to grant non-EU nationals access to their territory, they must do this in accordance with the law and uphold individuals' fundamental rights. Not only do the practices and policies of stopping asylum-seekers and migrants in need of protection at or before they reach the European Union's external borders ('pushbacks') erode EU values as enshrined in the EU Treaties, they may also violate international and European humanitarian and human rights laws. National human rights institutions, international bodies and civil society organisations regularly report cases of pushbacks at the European Union's land and sea borders. According to those reports, pushbacks often involve excessive use of force by EU Member States' authorities and EU agencies operating at external borders, and degrading and inhuman treatment of migrants and their arbitrary detention. The European Parliament has repeatedly called for Member States and EU agencies to comply with fundamental rights in their activities to protect the EU's external borders. Several international organisations and other stakeholders have condemned or filed legal actions against the practice of pushbacks carried out at the EU's external borders. In September 2020, the European Commission presented a pact on migration and asylum, including a proposal on pre-entry screening of third-country nationals at EU external borders, in a bid to address these potential breaches of fundamental rights.

Find out more about pushbacks in the Statewatch Database.

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