The European Commission presented its new plan on Tuesday to speed up the return of migrants to countries outside the European Union, as the 27 member states prepare to fight over the politically explosive issue in a series of key meetings. in the coming weeks.
EU countries’ migration services requested the removal of 342,100 people in 2021, the most recent year for which complete data is available. Only 24% of them were sent back to a country outside the bloc in 2021, according to Eurostat.
The number of returns “must be increased”, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson told a press conference in Brussels on Tuesday.
“Member states cannot solve it alone, but neither can the Commission solve it alone,” added Johansson.
Administrative problems and bottlenecks in member states that make it difficult to finalize returns are among the many reasons why this percentage is so low, officials say. It is also more convenient for third countries to agree on yields only as part of a more comprehensive set of economic measures. But, for example, agencies working on development assistance often do not coordinate with those working on returns.
One of the objectives of the Commission’s proposal is to “ensure that Member States join forces and that there is seamless coordination and coherence between all actors, in order to ensure that collective efforts are focused on the return to third countries identified in accordance with political priorities”.
The Commission’s plan comes ahead of an informal meeting of interior ministers in Stockholm on Thursday.
This meeting is expected to address measures that would ensure that each EU member state regularly provides Frontex, the EU’s border agency, with relevant data on returns by the end of each year, with the aim of establish a digitized process in all Member States “as soon as possible, and by 2026 at the latest.
It also aims to double the number of third countries covered by Frontex’s reintegration assistance programme, which provides financial assistance and advice to migrants on their return to their country of origin, by the end of 2023. .
Some 26 countries – including Brazil, India, Pakistan, Algeria and Morocco – are currently part of the programme.
The move comes as pressure on EU borders reaches its highest level since 2016: in 2022, around 330,000 irregular crossings were recorded at the bloc’s borders, according to the latest figures from Frontex.
Migration is also one of the key issues on the agenda of the next European Council, which will take place in Brussels at the beginning of February.
A draft text the leaders are seeking to agree on at the summit, seen by POLITICO, shows the meeting will mainly focus on increasing returns, protecting external borders and ‘aligning visa policy’ – referring to visa policies in some Balkan countries. countries that allow migrants to enter the EU.
The project avoids more controversial topics, such as whether EU funds should not be used to build fences, which Austria is asking for.
Some diplomats are critical of what they see as a general lack of ambition for the bloc’s migration policy in the draft.
The document appears “to be more of a summary of what we are already doing than… a much-needed way to relaunch the debate on migration in Europe,” an EU diplomat said.
Barbara Moens contributed reporting.