Easier suspension on visa-free travel

EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU

An official checks the passport of Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as he prepares to cast his vote at a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey on 07 June 2015.

EU member states, ministers of internal affairs, give hands and wait for European Parliament’s position


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The Justice and Home Affairs Council on May 20 reached a conclusion on the proposed regulation to revise the visa suspension mechanism.

The existing mechanism will be horizontally applied to all visa liberalisation agreements, said European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos in charge of migration, home affairs and citizenship. Together with Klaas Dijkhoff, the Dutch migration minister and president of the Council, Avramopoulos also presented the negotiating position that would further allow the Commission to trigger an emergency suspension of the visa-free travel for third-country nationals.

The suspension mechanism is already active. Each EU member state may propose the activation of the mechanism if a visa-exempt third country is not able to fulfil the criteria set by each visa liberalisation roadmap agreed with the EU.

The new proposal, however, makes it easier for an EU member state to notify circumstances – warning signs – leading to a possible suspension.

As per the extension of the grounds for a suspension, the proposal also includes a decrease in the level of cooperation on readmission (particularly indicated by a substantial increase in the refusal rate of readmission applications), including cases of third-country nationals having transited through the third country concerned, and a substantial increase of risks to public policy or internal security of the EU member states. This extension corresponds to demands made by France and Germany for more control over the EU-Turkey visa liberalisation process since the European Commission is determined to successfully close the issue in October, as it is connected to the EU-Turkey agreement on migration.

More specifically, the proposed suspension mechanism states that an EU member state may notify the Commission if it is confronted, over a two-month period (down from six months), in comparison with the same period in the previous year or in the last two months prior to the implementation of the exemption from the visa requirement for nationals of a third country, with one or more of the following circumstances: a substantial increase in the number of nationals of that third country found to be staying in the EU member state without a right to do so, or a substantial increase in the number of asylum applications from the nationals of that third country for which the recognition rate is low. This is also the case if there is a decrease of cooperation on readmission with that third country, substantiated by adequate data, in particular a substantial increase in the refusal rate of readmission applications submitted by the member state to that third country could also be a trigger.  The last the newly introduced criteria is described by an increase in the risks of the public policy or internal security of each EU member states.

This must be substantiated by concrete data, such as, for example, a substantial increase of serious crime or terrorist offences related to that third country.

Dijkhoff, the migration minister for the Netherlands, suggested that this proposal will provide “more ground to suspend” for each EU member state, while the mechanism aims to be significantly faster.

In terms of the Commission’s triggering process, this will be allowed by the tabling of an annual report to the European Parliament and Council on the continuous fulfilment of the criteria of visa-exempt third countries.

Describing the new criteria, in which the Commission has concrete and reliable information of circumstances referred before to one or more EU member states, this could be enough to trigger the mechanism. Another option is the lack of cooperation on behalf of the third country on readmission, in particular where a readmission agreement has been concluded between that third country and the EU.

This lack of cooperation of the readmission agreement could mean that the third country is either refusing or failing to process readmission applications in due time, or failing to issue, in due time, travel documents for the purposes of return within the deadlines specified in the agreement or not accepting European travel documents issued following the lapse of deadlines specified in the agreement. Another more obvious sign would be, of course, the termination or suspension of the agreement by that third country.

So, in terms of monitoring the fulfilment of the visa accession criteria, the Commission would keep a very close eye on the country that is granted the visa, as the criteria that lead to the successful conclusion of a visa liberalisation dialogue, must continuously apply. In addition to this comes the obligation of the Commission to report, at least once a year, to the European Parliament and the Council. The frequency of reporting could change if needed, but only if concrete and reliable information exists to propose that certain criteria are no longer being fulfilled.

The situation is also subject to the number of EU member states affected and the current migratory situation, as it appears from the data provided by the EU member states to the Commission. The European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the EU member states, the European Asylum Support Office and Europol can also offer a helping hand, if circumstances require.

After the report is tabled, the Commission, in close cooperation with that third country, will search for alternative long-term solutions and decide what kind of remedy is needed. If necessary, it can adopt an implementing act temporarily suspending the exemption from the visa requirement for the nationals of the third country concerned for a period of six months. This act shall be adopted in accordance with the examination procedure and shall determine the date on which the suspension of the exemption from the visa requirement is to be activated.

The whole process is subject to a simple majority of member states, forcing the Commission to adopt the implementing act within one month from the notification.

On behalf of the European Parliament, the EPP Group’s president, Manfred Weber, welcomed the decision. He described it as “a big success for EPP”.

While the visa liberalisation roadmap for Turkey has been extended until October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Turkish parliament have approved a law on forming a panel to monitor the discipline of law enforcement officials. This is one of the 72 benchmarks that Turkey has yet to meet.

On this issue, Avramopoulos welcomed the laws and agreements approved by Erdoğan on May 18-19 and published in Turkey’s Official Gazette on May 20.

“Turkey must fulfil all the conditions,” said Avramopoulos. Noting that the benchmark was met on readmission, he said: “I very much welcome this” because “this shows that Turkey, like the EU, sticks to its commitments. Turkey is our key partner and we continue to work together”.

Even though the EU-Turkey agreement might be in danger, the EU Commission insists on presenting the positive aspects.

On the other side of the Aegean Sea, the first ruling on an appeal of the asylum service’s decision to declare asylum claims inadmissible with the reasoning that Turkey is a “safe country” has been issued by a Greek court. The court ruled there should be an in-depth examination of asylum claims.

“This doesn’t set any trend, as we are talking about the first and only appeal decision,” one EU source told New Europe. The source also insisted that the full and successful implementation of the agreement needs more time.

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