Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Seventh Report






Commission Green Paper on a Community return policy on illegal residents.

Legal base:


Document originated:

10 April 2002

Deposited in Parliament:

23 April 2002


Home Office

Basis of consideration:

EM of 15 May 2002

Previous Committee Report:


To be discussed in Council:

Date not set

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

Not cleared; further information requested



    1. This Green Paper forms part of the comprehensive asylum and immigration policy called for at the special European Council in Tampere. It was signalled in the Commission's Communication on illegal immigration.[16]
    2. The document

    3. The Green Paper aims to open discussion on the question of return, which is seen as complicated and sensitive. The document does not explore the situation of legal residents who wish to return: its scope is limited to the voluntary or forced return of illegal residents in the EU.
    4. The introduction to the document states that its purpose is "to examine the complex return issues for people residing illegally in the EU and to put forward suggestions for a co-ordinated and efficient policy based on common principles and standards, and respectful of human rights and human dignity. The premise is that a return policy is needed in order to safeguard the integrity of the legal and humanitarian admission systems."
    5. The first section of the Green Paper has the title Return as an integral part of a comprehensive Community immigration and asylum policy. In relation to immigration, the document states that priority should be given to voluntary return (both on humanitarian grounds and because it requires less administrative effort). However, it recognises that there are circumstances where forced returns are necessary and considers that they can serve as a disincentive to further illegal immigration. Similarly, the voluntary or forced return of failed asylum seekers is seen as an important safeguard of the common asylum system, although the need for a subsidiary protection system (for those who cannot be sent back) is also recognised. This section of the document also emphasises the importance of human rights in any European return policy, and discusses the need for co-operation with countries of origin and transit, recognising that returns can have negative effects on them.
    6. The second section of the paper, Approximation and improved co-operation on return among Member States, calls for common standards for all stages of return and floats the possibility of a Directive on Minimum Standards for Return Procedures. This section also considers readmission and transit rules among Member States, operational co-operation, and return programmes. With regard to the latter, the Commission proposes an EC-funded European Return Programme which might replace the European Refugee Fund which comes to an end, in its current form, in 2004.
    7. The final part of the Green Paper, Towards a common readmission policy, notes that the Commission has been authorised so far to negotiate readmission agreements with Russia, Morocco, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong and Macao (of which only the agreement with Hong Kong has been concluded). It points out that these agreements (although reciprocal) in fact operate only in the interests of the Community, and their satisfactory conclusion depends on the "leverage" at the Commission's disposal. The Commission intends to continue inserting standard readmission clauses in all future association or co-operation agreements. It also suggests exploring co-operation with third countries on alternatives to repatriation.
    8. The Commission invites written comments on the Green Paper by 31 July 2002.
    9. .

      The Government's view

    10. The then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Angela Eagle) gave us the Government's initial views on the Paper, undertaking to provide more detail later, following consideration and consultation. The Minister was well-disposed towards the idea of common standards, but considered that more thought needed to be given to the proposal for common standards for detention. The Minister supported readmission and transit rules among Member States, but warned that rules on transit should not add bureaucracy to an already complex procedure, and should prevent abuse of Member States' asylum systems during transit. The Minister told us that the Government believed that migration issues, including returns, should be factored into the EU's wider external relations with third countries.
    11. The Seville Council and the Danish Presidency

    12. Discussions at the Seville Council in June covered issues of return and readmission, and are reflected in paras 33-36 of the Conclusion. These include endorsement of the proposal that any future co-operation or association agreements should include a clause on compulsory readmission in the event of illegal immigration, and of the importance of ensuring the co-operation of countries of origin and transit over readmission. The possibility of technical and financial assistance is signalled, as is the need to review relations with third countries which do not co-operate in combating illegal immigration.
    13. In its statement of priorities, the Danish Presidency has announced that it will seek to speed up the conclusion of readmission agreements currently being negotiated and develop new ones, will work to ensure the insertion of a clause on readmission in co-operation and association agreements, and will integrate migration aspects into EU foreign policy.
    14. Conclusion

    15. The Seville Conclusions and the Danish Presidency's priorities make it clear that, sensitive and complex as these issues are, Member States are not waiting for the results of the Commission's consultation exercise before moving ahead. Given that, it is disappointing that the Government has not yet provided us with a full account of its views on this thoughtful and well-rounded paper.
    16. We will keep the document under scrutiny until we have the Government's considered views on it. We also ask for a copy of the UK's response to the Green Paper.


16  (22998) 14239/01; see HC 152-xviii (2001-02), paragraph 11 (6 February 2002). Back

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