EU Readmission Agreements: towards a more strategic EU approach that respects human rights?

21 March 2012

 “The EU’s readmission policy is relatively young – it’s had 10 years to develop,” said Paweł Busiakiewicz, a policy officer at the European Commission’s directorate-general for home affairs.

“We’ve been negotiating with third countries since the Council gave us a mandate to do so. Out of 21 agreements with third countries, 13 are already in force,” Busiakiewicz explained.

As for the rest, some agreements are yet to be ratified, while others are still under negotiation.

“Data can be a substantial tool, but it’s still lacking. Cooperation is working and helpful, and it improves from one meeting to another,” Busiakiewicz said.

“The stiffness of the negotiating directives doesn’t help, and some clauses on third-country nationals are controversial. We agreed not to include them in future mandates, but it’s nuanced – we need to keep them in agreements with transit countries,” he explained.

Busiakiewicz admitted that there were certain “deficiencies” regarding human rights – “we’re not hiding anything there” – but reaffirmed the Commission’s stance that international human rights protection instruments must not be altered by readmission agreements.

He cited accelerated readmission procedures and the ability to suspend agreements should the situation deteriorate in the third country as “issues that deserve attention”.

“There are divergences between the Commission and the Council positions. I’d like to see more open Council conclusions, but there should be leeway for a more open policy in the new mandates,” he said.

“The Netherlands believes readmission is an important dossier. We believe readmission and returns policy are key parts of migration policy. They help to win public support for other parts of migration policy,” said Sander Luijsterburg, first secretary at the Permanent Representation of the Netherlands to the EU.

Luijsterburg said there were three main aspects to the Commission’s evaluation of the EU’s readmission system: human rights, flexibility of mandates and the impact of returns on other policy fields.

“Don’t confuse readmission policy with admission policy. We don’t believe human rights should be a major part of readmission. It’s different from admission,” he claimed.

“All the rules in the Netherlands respect international law. If the outcome of the Dutch government’s assessment is negative for the asylum seeker, they have to go home,” Luijsterburg said.

“Human rights claims should not be assessed at this point. Admission is the right time,” he insisted.

“We want to avoid situations in which people can’t be admitted but they can’t be readmitted either. But human rights under international law must be respected at all times,” he said.

“The Netherlands believes more flexibility in the negotiating mandates on the table is required, to take into account the concerns of third countries, the geopolitical situation in neighbouring countries and geographical location,” Luijsterburg said.

“It won’t be easy to reach agreement in the Council,” he warned.

“The Commission’s evaluation raised concerns over the respect of fundamental rights and the suitability of data,” said French Green MEP Hélène Flautre, arguing that the “positive harmonisation” of an EU-wide agreement would add value.

“Member states have their own policies, but an EU one could improve human rights and end this system of informal national agreements, where there is no monitoring and no human rights,” said Flautre, a member of the European Parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee.

“Morocco was among the first countries to start to negotiate a readmission agreement with the EU,” said His Excellency Menouar Alem, the Ambassador of Morocco to the EU.

“Migration isn’t an exclusive power of the EU, which makes it very difficult for the European Commission to negotiate on countries’ behalf. Member states are divided over different aspects of the agreement, so we waste a lot of time,” Alem lamented.

He said EU member states’ views tended to diverge between north and south: northern countries would adopt a security standpoint, whereas southern countries would take a development perspective.

“Why should a country like Morocco, the last stop before ‘the European Eldorado’, take all the responsibility? Would-be migrants to Europe reach Morocco after transiting many countries, some of which don’t even have relations with the EU, so why should we take all the responsibility?” Alem argued.

“Morocco thinks readmission should be part of overall migration policy and that the EU should be granted much more power,” he said.

“Readmission Agreements must be balanced, politically acceptable and possible to implement. The EU must avoid double standards,” he concluded.