The European Union's plans to align its rules on asylum and standardise conditions for asylum-seekers are welcome but fail to recognise adequately that migration to Europe is long-term and structural in nature, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) agreed on 8 February. In separate recommendations agreed on the same day, the CoR welcomed the EU's drive to manage migration through country-specific partnerships with neighbouring states and argued that the EU should work more with regions and cities in these countries.
If heeded by the EU's decision-making bodies, the recommendations made by the CoR would result in fuller access to legal support for migrants, stronger protections for migrants aged under 18, and more financial support for local and regional authorities. In the EU's cooperation with countries in Africa and the Middle East, the CoR advises the EU to work with non-EU cities and regions to raise awareness of issues relating to migration, to give local authorities outside the EU "direct access" to EU funds, and to grant them a role in the governance of the EU's new External Investment Plan.
The author of the opinion on reform of the asylum system – Vincenzo Bianco (IT/PES), the mayor of Catania in Sicily – said: "The EU urgently needs a harmonised system, but the CoR is concerned – personally, I am extremely concerned – that some of the proposed rules are too rigid, would limit rights of migrants and would do too little to help either the cities and regions receiving migrants or people arriving on our shores. That is partly because the EU has not yet abandoned the illusion that it is dealing with an individual emergency. We need a system that is clear, simple, and speedy, but it must be fair to all and must not compromise the rights and dignity of migrants, in particular the fast-growing number of unaccompanied minors."
This is the second report drafted by Mr Bianco on reforms of the EU's asylum rules. His earlier opinion, which the CoR adopted in December 2016, suggested changes to the EU's asylum system to make it fairer and more effective for refugees and for countries across the EU, including for countries that would prefer to pay penalties rather than to accept resettled asylum-seekers.
Outlining his views on migration partnerships with 16 non-EU states, Peter Bossman (SI/PES), the mayor of Piran, said: "We have to have three short-term objectives in these migration partnerships: to save lives, to enable legal migration and to help refugees as close as possible to their homelands. Our ultimate aim must be tailored engagement with these countries and their local and regional authorities, so that we all control migration better and improve the reception, integration or reintegration of migrants. The EU must remember that it is regions and cities that are responsible for providing access to the labour market, housing, education and healthcare, for example."
The opinions are the latest in a series of recommendations drawn up by the CoR over the past five years in order to address the challenges and opportunities raised by migration. Mr Bianco said ships continue to dock in Catania each week carrying thousands of migrants rescued on the Mediterranean, many of them unaccompanied children and teenagers. Mr Bossman underscored Mr Bianco's view that the elevated level of migration is now structural, noting that over 60 million people in the world are currently displaced and saying: "Migration flows to Europe are driven by geopolitical and economic factors that will continue in the coming years and may intensify. But the vast majority of these people seek refuge in neighbouring countries, many of them very poor or unstable themselves, which highlights that the EU has a responsibility towards them."
Mr Bossman emphasised that, in their efforts to manage migration, the EU and its partners should not divert funding from development aid. "We need to ensure that these partnerships reinforce the UN's development agenda, rather than jeopardise it," he said.
Separately, the CoR on 8 February adopted an own-initiative opinion that argues that a planned update of the European Consensus on Development should make "ordered management of migration" one of the aims of development aid. The rapporteur, Jesús Gamallo Aller (ES/EPP), Galicia's director-general for relations with the EU, specifically highlighted the EU's need to work more with cities and regions in order to meet Goal 11 of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, which states the need to "make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable".
Notes to editors:
Vincenzo Bianco , mayor of Catania on the eastern coast of Sicily, is a lawyer by training and served as Italy's interior minister in two governments in 1999-2001. He has been a deputy and senator in the Italian parliament, and has chaired the parliamentary committee charged with oversight of the intelligence services. He first became mayor of Catania in 1988.
Peter Bossman is the Ghanaian-born mayor of the Slovenian town of Piran. Forced out of Ghana in 1966, his family settled in Europe. He studied medicine in Yugoslavia, settled there and worked as a doctor before, in 2010, becoming mayor of Piran.
The CoR's opinion on " Reform of the Common European Asylum System – Package II and a Union Resettlement Framework ", drafted by Vincenzo Bianco (IT/PES) and adopted on 8 February, focuses on the EU Commission's legislative proposals for standards for reception and the resettlement of arrivals, with particular attention to unaccompanied minors. Among its recommendations, the CoR calls on the EU to enhance legal assistance (particularly for minors), adjust the appeals process, clarify the definition of the "first country of asylum", allow the resettlement of migrants who arrived irregularly more than five years ago, expand its sources of information, increase funding for reception centres and local and regional authorities, and increase local and regional authorities' access to reception centres. The CoR's opinion on " Reform of the Common European Asylum System ", adopted on 8 December 2016, focused on reform of the Dublin regulation, the redistribution of asylum-seekers, the transformation of the European Asylum Support Office, and support for local and regional authorities.
In its opinion on the " Partnership Framework with Third Countries on Migration ", drafted by Peter Bossman (SI/PES), welcomes the European Commission's launch of a Migration Partnership Framework in June 2016 and its subsequent creation of a European External Investment Plan. It offers conditional support for 'hotspots' on non-European soil, with EU agencies working alongside national authorities to identify incoming migrants, and for development funds to be spent on security and border management. It backs the offer of incentives for countries that host refugees, readmit irregular migrants and cooperate with EU. Among its recommendations, the CoR: calls for the introduction of co-financing requirements in External Investment Plan; argues that "local governments should be made partners in all pillars of the External Investment Plan"; encourages cooperation between the EU and diaspora groups to finance investments; wants the EU to invest to "reinforce local capacity building"; urges easing access to information by the EU's sub-national authorities; and seeks EU funding for city-to-city and region-to-region cooperation. Among the 16 partner countries, it highlights the particular importance of Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and Niger.
The CoR is working with local and regional authorities in the EU's eastern and southern neighbourhoods to address migration through political meetings, policy recommendations, and the exchange of best practice. During the CoR's plenary, a group of Libyan mayors and officials visited Brussels and Mechelen as part of a study visit focused on financial management. On 22-23 February, CoR members will meet counterparts from the Middle East and North Africa for discussions that will focus on migration and Libya. In July, the CoR, together with the European Commission, will host a meeting with local and regional authorities from developing countries to explore how to develop city-to-city and region-to-region cooperation to manage migration and mobilise climate action as well as to boost economic development.
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