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The « external dimension » of the migration policy will be enhanced by the Maltese presidency!

30 January 2017 – For the first time since joining, Malta will head the Council of the European Union (EU) as of the 1st of January 2017, for the next six months, in the framework of the principle of the rotating presidency. The island has thus announced its priorities. Among single market, security, social inclusion, maritime policy and neighborhood partnerships, migration does not fail to find a privileged position[1], in line with the Commission’s agenda and as announced during the last meeting of the JHA Council under the Slovak presidency, on the 8 and 9 December 2016[2].

v  The asylum law reform

The proposals revising the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) being on the negotiating table, Malta wishes to give new impetus to the discussions and has the objective to reach a consensus between Member States – now well-divided on the solidarity mechanism and hence on the Dublin III reform[3].

Thanks to its experience of obligations and problems of a country situated at the EU external borders, the Maltese presidency is in a good position to promote the principles of solidarity and responsibility sharing among Member States; Malta considers therefore as a priority the conclusion of the relocation plan (160,000 people), all Member States having to respect their commitments taken in this context by September 2017. « Solidarity is solidarity and that’s it. […] I don’t think we should consider opt-outs », has stated the Maltese foreign minister George Vella.

Malta pays also close attention to the transformation of the European Agency Support Office (EASO) in a real European Agency; the fact that this Agency is located on its territory is not totally unrelated.

v  Focus on the legal immigration

In parallel to the management of the “migration crisis”, the new Maltese presidency wishes to stimulate a recast of the visa code…And its counterpart that is the control of border crossings with a European travel information and authorisation system (ETIAS) and the conclusion of an agreement on the entry/exit System.

In this field of legal immigration, another project awaits: the reform of the “Blue Card” directive, aiming at facilitating and encouraging the immigration of highly skilled foreign workers.

v  The externalisation of “migration problem”

Its geographic position, opened to the South edge of the Mediterranean, allows this country to emphasize the issue of a more holistic migration policy, where the relations with third countries are essential.

The new presidency esteems that the external dimension must be strengthened, in particular through the conclusion of partnership agreements with third countries.  In the face of critics denouncing the “compacts” currently negotiated by the EU, because they do not only aim at preventing perilous journeys, but also at implementing policies of return to the countries of origin and transit[4], Minister Vella sees himself as being reassuring, guaranteeing that there will be no “pushbacks” and that the right to the international protection will be respected. He goes further by asserting that the strengthening of security at external borders would allow appeasing tensions among the Višegrad group, so intensifying the allocation of migrants in Europe.[5]

It being understood, however, that the distinction between asylum seeker and “economic migrant” cannot be ignored[7].

In order to do this, the objective of the cooperation in the field of migration with third countries, and more specifically with African countries, will be part of the priorities of the Valletta Summit on Migration on the 8 and 9 February 2017. At the same time, Malta encourages the deepening of relations with the Arab League, by contributing to the preparations for the fifth EU-Africa Summit, which will take place in November 2017.

We must recall that it was at the occasion of the 1st Valletta Summit of 11 and 12 November 2015 that the EU leaders held a meeting with the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan which set the basis for the EU-Turkey agreement signed on the 18 March 2016. Manifestly, the Maltese presidency aims at continuing to ensure its implementation, given the decrease in refugee flows coming from Greece.

By highlighting this example, Malta foresees similar agreements with other countries of the Mediterranean region.  The Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, turns towards Libya, considering that “there should be a political signal from the EU that it is ready to engage with Libya”.[11], is also in Maltese sight.

At each new presidency of the EU, the hope for a shift in the European policy in the field of migration and asylum takes shape. If we can count on the ability – and legitimacy –of the Maltese government to stand up for the intra-European solidarity, apparently the commitments for the next semester will be less focused on the defense of the rights of migrants, or on the affirmation of a common will to receive refugees.

We can also be concerned that the new EU presidency will be able to find the necessary supports, among Member States, in order to give a new impetus to a policy of externalisation and therefore disregarding its international obligations.

 

We can doubt that this was the answer the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, expected when he declared: “ This is now the moment for a new vision for Europe’s engagement with the global refugee crisis, on its history of tolerance, openness and (be) based on protection principles, but also with a pragmatic and practical approach. History has demonstrated that Europe is stronger when it addresses its challenges together; and I firmly believe that this is still possible today »[12].

 

o   Read the Priorities of the Maltese Presidency: Programme of the Maltese presidency of the Council of the European Union



[2] Outcome of the JHA Council, 8 and 9 December 2016, http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/jha/2016/12/st15391_en16_pdf/

[3] Euobserver, “No opt-outs on migration, says Malta”, 16 January 2017, https://euobserver.com/eu-presidency/136546

[4] Independent, “Italy views Maltese EU Presidency as highly relevant with regard to migration and security, 4 January 2017, http://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2017-01-04/local-news/Italy-views-Maltese-EU-Presidency-as-highly-relevant-with-regard-to-migration-and-security-6736168645

[5] Rtbf, « Crise migratoire, accueil des réfugiés: les priorités de la présidence tournante maltaise », 12 January 2017, http://www.rtbf.be/info/monde/detail_crise-migratoire-accueil-des-refugies-les-priorites-de-la-presidence-tournante-maltaise?id=9500658

[6] Euobserver, “No opt-outs on migration, says Malta”, 16 January 2017, https://euobserver.com/eu-presidency/136546

[7] EurActiv, « Malta: Complacency on migration ‘not an option anymore’ “, 23 December 2016, https://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/interview/malta-complacency-on-migration-not-an-option-anymore

[8] EurActiv, « Malta PM wants Turkey-style migrant deals with other Med countries», 13 January 2017, http://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/malta-pm-wants-turkey-style-migrant-deals-with-other-med-countries/

[9] Project on the stabilisation of the country, the fight against human trafficking, the “closure” of the border with Niger, in order to prevent all transit of migrants.

[10] Internazionale, “Cosa prevede l’accordo tra l’Italia e la Libia sui migranti”, 10 January 2017, http://www.internazionale.it/notizie/2017/01/10/accordo-italia-libia-migranti

[11] Reuters, “Libya not accepting Italy migrant deal: EU presidency Malta”, 13 janvier 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-libya-italy-idUSKBN14X193

UNHCR « UNHCR calls for new vision in Europe’s approach to refugees» , 5 December 2016, http://www.unhcr.org/fr/news/press/2016/12/584547d0a/hcr-appelle-lue-renforcer-laction-faveur-refugies.html

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