Key facts for 2014
- 283 532 detections of illegal border-crossing
- Syrians represented around a quarter of the total (79 049)
- 170 664 detections were in the central Mediterranean, 50 834 in the eastern Mediterranean route
- 441 780 detections of illegal stay in the EU
- 252 003 third-country nationals were effectively returned to third countries
The growing instability in the EU’s southern neighbourhood has increased the number of people trying to reach the European Union. The EU is committed to providing a response to migratory pressures in the Mediterranean, by focusing on several goals:
- protecting those in need and preventing further loss of life at sea
- targeting the criminal networks of people smugglers and traffickers
- addressing the root causes of illegal migration
- providing avenues for legal migration
Key developments in the Council
Throughout 2013 and 2014 the European Council and the Council worked to build an EU response to migratory pressures.
Following the death of more than 300 migrants close to the island of Lampedusa in October 2013, the Council set up the Task Force Mediterranean, to identify lines of action and prevent such incidents from occurring in the future. This task force is led by the European Commission.
In June 2014, the European Council also defined migration as a strategic priority for the new EU institutional cycle, under the section on developing a trusted area of fundamental freedoms.
The role of the European Council and the Council
The European Council plays an important role in this field, setting the strategic priorities.
The Council establishes certain lines of action and provides the mandates for negotiations with third countries. It also monitors the definition and implementation of specific programmes.
At their October 2014 Council meeting, home affairs ministers adopted conclusions on taking action to better manage migratory flows. These conclusions built on the results of the Task Force Mediterranean and aimed to define a sustainable approach to migration.
However, the actions defined were not sufficient to respond to the growing migratory flows. Following the tragic events in the Mediterranean in April 2015, EU heads of state and government agreed to mobilise all efforts to prevent more people from dying at sea and to address the root causes of migration. They decided to focus the response on four main areas:
- strengthening the presence at sea
- fighting traffickers
- preventing illegal migratory flows
- reinforcing internal solidarity and responsibility
The Council and the Commission were invited to report to the European Council in June 2015 on the state of implementation of the operations identified. In addition, EU leaders highlighted the key role of the upcoming Commission communication on a European agenda for migration.
In May 2015, the European Commission presented its communication on a European agenda for migration, together with several proposals regarding the immediate response to migratory pressures in the Mediterranean. EU home affairs ministers will have an initial discussion on the agenda and related proposals at their June Council meeting.
Main Council areas of action
Saving lives at sea and targeting criminal networks
In October 2014, the Council welcomed the launch by the Commission and Frontex of the EU funded operation Triton. This operation, which was launched on 1 November 2014, aims to reinforce border surveillance in the waters close to Italian shores. Operation Triton is not the first Mediterranean operation for Frontex. The European agency has been patrolling the eastern Mediterranean since 2006, through operation Poseidon.
At their meeting on 23 April 2015, EU leaders called for a rapid reinforcement of operations Triton and Poseidon, by at least tripling their financial resources for 2015 and 2016. This reinforcement should allow the operations to increase their search and rescue possibilities, while keeping within the border management mandate of Frontex.
In addition to saving migrant lives at sea, the EU also seeks to target the criminal networks which exploit vulnerable migrants. On 18 May 2015, following instructions by the European Council, the Council agreed to establish an EU military operation, EUNAVFOR MED, to break the business model of smugglers and traffickers of people in the Mediterranean. This decision allowed formal planning for the military operation to start. Once the plan is finalised, the Council will be able to agree on it and to decide whether to launch the operation. The launch of the operation will be on the agenda of the June Foreign Affairs Council.
Preventing illegal migration flows
Responding to the root causes of illegal migration flows is one of the core elements of a successful migratory strategy and requires a broad approach. EU action on this area seeks to:
- address the causes of illegal migration, including through political dialogue, crisis response and development programmes
- promote readmission of unauthorised economic migrants
These two lines of action involve cooperation with third countries, including countries of origin and transit of migrants. The global approach to migration and mobility (GAMM), last updated by the Council in May 2012, provides the framework for the EU’s relations with third countries in the area of migration. It serves as a complement to the EU’s foreign and development cooperation policies.
The implementation of the GAMM is monitored every two years through a Commission report, which is then discussed at the Council. Council conclusions on the implementation of the GAMM were last adopted in April 2014.
The Council and its preparatory bodies are in charge of defining the EU position to be taken at international conferences or regional dialogues on the subject of migration. These regional dialogues include:
- the Rabat process, which brings EU countries and institutions together with north, west and central African countries
- the Khartoum process, which brings EU countries and institutions together with countries of origin and transit and the African Union Commission
The EU also negotiates and concludes readmission agreements with third countries, setting out the rules for returning persons who are found in an irregular situation to the territory of those countries. The Council provides the Commission with the mandate to negotiate such agreements with targeted third countries. So far, the EU has concluded 17 readmission agreements.
In addition to the existing channels a series of measures to reinforce EU action are underway, including:
- increasing support to countries in north Africa and the Sahel region
- holding a summit in the coming months with African and other key countries concerned to discuss migration issues
- deploying European migration liaison officers in key countries
- setting up a programme for the rapid return of illegal migrants from frontline member states
Reinforcing internal solidarity and responsibility
The Task Force Mediterranean already highlighted in 2013 the need to provide assistance to member states dealing with high migratory pressures. The continued increase in the number of migrants arriving on the Mediterranean shores underlines the need for a common EU response to this issue.
Relocation and resettlement
Relocation: transfer of a person who has made an application for international protection from the member state in charge of examining his application to another member state.
Resettlement: non-EU displaced persons in clear need of international protection are transferred from a non-EU country and established in an EU member state.
In April 2015, the European Council called for increased emergency aid for frontline member states, including consideringoptions for emergency relocation on a voluntary basis.
Among the first measures under the European agenda on migration, the Commission has presented a proposal for a provisional relocation procedure to support Italy and Greece. This proposal will be discussed at the Council. In addition, in order to help member states fulfil their responsibilities, the Commission has provided a working document on implementing the regulation regarding the obligation to take fingerprints of migrants entering the EU.
Providing legal avenues
Many of those arriving in the European Union are fleeing conflict and prosecution and are in clear need of international protection. In the strategic guidelines for justice and home affairs, adopted in June 2014, the European Council called for the transposition and implementation of the Common European Asylum System and for a strengthened role for the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). This would allow asylum seekers to have the same procedural guarantees in all EU member states.
In April 2015, the European Council highlighted the need to set up a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement across the EU, in order to increase the number of places offered to persons in need of protection. As part of its European agenda on migration, the Commission presented a recommendation for a European resettlement scheme in May 2015. This project would provide resettlement places for 20 000 people over the next two years. This proposal will be discussed at the Council.
In addition, the EU is working on legislation which will enable it to remainan attractive destination for the talent of students, researchers and workers.