After a lengthy debate the Council of interior ministers reached an agreement on 11 April 2011 in Luxembourg on how the EU can help Italy and Malta with handling the mass influx of refugees from North Africa. An extraordinary meeting of the Council was convened for 12 May to discuss long-term issues related to refugees.
In its conclusions the Home Affairs Council reaffirms “the need for genuine and concrete solidarity towards Member States most directly concerned by migratory movements”, and calls on the EU and its Member States to continue providing the necessary support. The Council welcomed the Commission’s intention to extend, with the support of the current and incoming Presidencies of the Council, the existing pilot project, on a voluntary basis, for persons who are beneficiaries of international protection in Malta.
The Council agreed to accelerate negotiations on amending the FRONTEX Regulation, in order to expand its powers as soon as possible, in cooperation with the European Parliament, with a view to reach an agreement by June 2011. The Council called on FRONTEX to continue to monitor the situation and prepare detailed risk analyses, and also invited FRONTEX to speed up negotiations with the countries of the region, and in particular with Tunisia.
A long-term sustainable strategy is needed
The document calls on countries of North Africa to prevent illegal migration and to readmit their own nationals. The Council conclusions highlight that resettlement of refugees to another member state, on a voluntary basis, in particular those living for some years in a situation of protracted displacement and vulnerability, and having no other perspective, can represent a durable solution for them.
The document underlines that the described measures represent the immediate answer to the crisis situation in the Mediterranean, but that it is also crucial to put in place a more long-term sustainable strategy to address international protection, migration, mobility and security in general.
Mr Pintér: “We have closed a difficult but rewarding day”
After the meeting, Hungarian Home Affairs Minister Sándor Pintér called it a success that the Council adopted conclusions unanimously. “We have closed a difficult but rewarding day, very difficult questions have been on the agenda. But every member, every minister has managed to accept the conclusions, so as a result, we can go further” Mr Pintér summarized the debate.
“These conclusions define the short-term tasks, naturally, they do not (permanently) resolve the issue, we must take long-term actions in the region” he added.
Pintér reported that the Home Affairs Council will hold an extraordinary meeting in Brussels on 12 May in order to discuss the long-term issues. He said he was hopeful that “by that time the proposals in focus would be able to bring us closer to reducing the number of refugees arriving from North Africa, and also to finding the long-term solutions for this issue within the Union.”
In response to a journalist’s question, Mr Pintér stated that Italy also voted in favour of the conclusions. This was stressed because before the meeting Italian Minister of Home Affairs Roberto Maroni told journalists that he did not vote for the document, rather abstained, and questioned the point of Italy’s staying in the EU.
“Minister Maroni did not mention this in there. The conclusions of the Council were adopted with absolute consent, with certain reservations. This means Italy also adopted these conclusions. There were lengthy discussions, several rounds, and Mr Maroni accepted the conclusions, although with reservations“ – Pintér said. To give an explanation, later on, from a note he read the sentence that Maroni said: “We accept the conclusions, but we are dissatisfied.” “We consider this as a reservation”, Pintér added. “The possibility of leaving the EU was not mentioned during the meeting” Pintér said, referring to Italy.
In response to a question, Pintér admitted that in the Council meeting Maroni complained about the lack of European solidarity for Italy. “He also strongly opposed the decisions in that he found the solidarity [that Italy had received] from the Union too little. But finally, we came to an agreement”, the Hungarian Home Affairs Minister said.
Pintér summarized the main points of the agreement that Italy would grant a six-month visa for the Tunisian refugees who arrived before 4 April, which will entitle its holders for free movement in the entire territory of the EU. In turn, Tunisia will readmit the refugees who arrived after 4 April.
Voluntary help for Malta
In earlier press briefings held in the mid-time break, the Hungarian Home Affairs Minister stressed that several member states offered voluntary help for Malta, where “the situation is the most dangerous compared to the size of population.” “Germany supports Malta by admitting one hundred persons, Slovakia will admit ten, and several states will admit even more” Pintér told in the press briefing. This will significantly facilitate the handling of migration from North Africa in the future, he added.
Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström once again urged in this earlier press briefing that EU member states should demonstrate solidarity with refugees arriving from Libya and Tunisia. The Commissioner acknowledged that Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Portugal and Spain have already offered assistance, and encouraged other member states to do the same.
The main issues of the meeting of the Council are the regulation on succession, the proposal on the directive combating the sexual exploitation of children and the proposal on the directive on attacks against information systems.
Location: European Congress Center - Luxemburg
Address: Luxemburg 1499 Luxembourg, Quartier Européen Sud, place de l'Europe 4.
The main issues of the meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council are:
- Council Regulation on Jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and authentic instruments in matters of succession and the creation of a European Certificate
- Proposal – Directive on combating the sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography
- Proposal – Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the right to information in criminal proceedings
- Directive on the prevention of trafficking in human beings and the protection of victims