Monday, 12 November 2012

EASO Director positive on solidarity conditionality?

On 29th and 30th October we attended the ERA Annual Conference on EU Asylum Law, that brought together practitioners, academics, institutions and NGOs working in the area of asylum.  A number of interesting presentations were delivered, and we're happy to share with you the notes we took during that delivered by Dr. Robert Visser, EASO's Executive Director.  Once we receive the actual presentation we'll also share this with you.

Notes from Dr. Visser's presentation

Overall, Dr. Visser went through the points he usually goes through during similar events.  He highlighted EASO's supportive role, as opposed to a decision-making one, emphasising that the Agency is not authorised to deal with individual cases.

It was good to hear him underline the fact that, contrary to public perception, only a few of the world's asylum-seekers actually reach Europe and that the few who do actually reach Europe should be treated in a humane and dignified manner.

In relation to CEAS, and the set target-date for its completion (end 2012), he commented on the rapid developments made in this area since Tampere in 1999, that from having nothing at all the EU now has a set of legal instruments and a specialised Agency.  

As stated in other events we attended, Visser emphasised that of the Agency's duties as stipulated in the founding Regulation, he views the provision of permanent support as EASO's most important role since these activities would work towards supporting MS efforts to reach the same level of legal and practical harmonisation.  Having said this, individual MS support remains key as he noted that thoroughly prepared and designed asylum systems might not be equipped to deal with sudden changes or increases in flows of asylum-seekers, giving EASO's activities in Luxembourg as an example.  

On a more interesting note, Visser gave some insight into EASO's possible role in the Early-Warning System that will form part of the new 'Dublin III' Regulation.  Visser commented that EASO will not be involved in monitoring the quality of national asylum systems, but will be more focused on assessing their preparedness to deal with incoming asylum-seekers, primarily in terms of their capacity in relation to regular and exceptional situations.  Understanding that such capacity goes beyond system quality, he said that the Office will look at the ability to respond quickly and effectively to changes.  In this, EASO will be a neutral and objective player.

Yet in the same breath, Visser also said how EASO's activities in Greece are being implemented on the basis of an agreed commitment by the Greek authorities to assume their responsibilities and work towards improving the quality of their asylum system.

These latter statements prompted a question from us.  On the one hand we are generally interested in understanding what will happen once CEAS is actually finalised, in terms of activities and efforts towards monitoring the transposition and implementation of the measures.  Secondly, in view of our experiences with solidarity and intra-EU relocation efforts in Malta, we are keen to see a strong element of conditionality present in all EU-supported solidarity mechanisms and discussions.  

We have often reiterated that solidarity in the field of asylum should not be limited to the EU MS involved, or to the protection beneficiaries being relocated/support, but that it should also (and possibly more importantly) benefit those persons remaining in the first EU MS.  Essentially we strongly advocate the idea that solidarity should not come for free, that any EU MS benefitting for whatever form of support (joint processing, asylum support teams, intra-EU relocation, etc.) should be required to commit to improving their asylum systems, in accordance with their international and EU legal obligations.

So we asked Visser whether such conditionality could be envisaged, also since EASO's assessment as to the preparedness of any asylum system cannot ignore the fact that low-quality systems (in terms of quality of transposition/implementation) could also result in them being unprepared to deal with in-coming asylum-seekers.  On this basis, any EASO preparedness assessment - however objective - would necessarily need to also assess whether the systems are in compliance with CEAS and other standards.

Summarily Visser said yes.  He commented that although EASO has no formal competence in requesting improvements in asylum systems, the Regulation does empower him to refuse to provide solidarity and support...and that he is willing to use this discretion as necessary.

Other questions asked:

Q.  Should we expect more COI reports?  Is there the possibility to revise EASO's COI methodology to ensure increased transparency in the way data is gathered and processed?
A.  The list of possible countries for COI reports is a long one.  EASO will focus its efforts on where it's potential added value is most needed.  Visser said he was not unhappy with the Afghanistan report (on which just last week EASO organised a review conference), but that time will tell whether the report will be used and endorsed by asylum authorities and judge.  He added that by the end of this year a 2nd Afghanistan report should be published.  Re. the methodology, he emphasised that no views were excluded from the report and that the Office is willing to receive information and data that could be used to produce a more relevant and reliable document.

Q.  Is harmonisation truly achievable?  If so, what time-frame is envisaged?     
A.  Given the pace at which the EU has moved so far, yes, true harmonisation will be achieved.  Whilst it is true that at the political level there is far more reluctance now to talk of migration issues, at the operational level harmonisation is being acknowledged as the only way ahead, pushing harmonisation in a bottom-up approach.

Q.  What steps will be taken by EASO to ensure respect for fundamental rights in all its operations and work?
A.  Unanswered.

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