The Swedish EU Presidency’s proposals for a new justice and home affairs agenda, adopted by European heads of state and government at their meeting in Brussels last week (10-11 December), should lead to much-needed action in areas such as immigration and asylum, experts told EURACTIV.
The final draft of the programme was described by a European Commission official as the broadest ever “roadmap” of its kind.
The point was echoed by UK Socialist MEP Claude Moraes, who said that unlike its Tampere and Hague predecessors, the Stockholm blueprint covers “the entire JHA area”.
Moraes, who sits on a parliamentary taskforce dealing specifically with these issues, told EURACTIV he believes Stockholm offers the EU a potential “shift in gear” to finally “make some concrete progress” in debates which have effectively been frozen for many years.
The controversial and politically-sensitive questions of immigration policy, asylum, fundamental rights and security have caused numerous fractures among EU member states during the past decade.
Increased Parliament involvement will ‘speed things up’
However, with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the Parliament now has equal lawmaking rights with the EU Council of Ministers in a whole swathe of JHA areas, something Moraes and others believe will unblock a number of key debates.
A Commission official told EURACTIV he believes key decisions will be reached much more quickly in future, as extended co-decision powers over JHA under Lisbon see the Parliament become more involved.
Moraes, meanwhile, claimed “it’s about certainty more than speed”. No matter how controversial these subjects are, “we will actually be able to legislate,” he said, arguing that when “light is shone on these issues” in the democratic forum of the Parliament, “it should get things moving”.
The Stockholm Programme, despite being deliberately vague, nonetheless begins to point in the right direction, the Commission source noted. For example, on the thorny issue of the increased numbers of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants seeking to enter the EU via the Mediterranean, the programme acknowledges the need to bolster Frontex, the EU agency for external border security.
This should, eventually, lead to increased sharing of assets – boats, planes and personnel – between EU member states in responding to vessels packed with illegal immigrants, something that is conspicuously lacking at present, according to Italian MEPs.
With the Stockholm Programme identifying Frontex as a key component of broader strategies to combat illegal immigration, it should pressure member states into doing more together, as well as giving more assets to the Commission to build up FRONTEX’s capabilties in the Mediterranean, Moraes believes. “It’s up to us to fill in the blanks,” he said.
Towards an EU asylum policy?
While the Commission source said that the executive was “happy” with the Swedish roadmap, diplomatic sources told EURACTIV that in fact the EU executive had been “unhappy” that there was no progress on mutual recognition of asylum – an area where many member states have been reluctant to move too quickly.
Elaborating on this point, Kris Pollett, senior policy officer at the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), said that the lack of willingness among member states to go for higher standards of protection for refugees and to achieve a Common European Asylum System is reflected in the programme through “ambiguous language on harmonising asylum legislation”.
Pollett said ECRE is “very disappointed” by the vague wording of the programme in this regard, while Moraes claimed the final draft places too much emphasis on security and control in relation to crossing borders, visa controls and crime.
Above all, the programme focuses strongly on citizens’ rights, setting itself the goal of making European citizenship a “tangible reality”.