Documents considered by the Committee on 14th October 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents


1 Relocation of individuals in need of international protection (first Commission proposal)

Committee's assessment Legally and politically important
Committee's decision(a) Not cleared from scrutiny; opt-in decision recommended for debate on the floor of the House (decision reported 21 July 2015); drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee; also relevant to the debate on the Commission Communication, A European Agenda on Migration, recommended on 21 July 2015

(b) Not cleared from scrutiny; relevant to the opt-in debate on document (a)

Document details(a) Proposal for a Council Decision establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece; (b) Council general approach on a proposal for a Council Decision establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece
Legal base(Both) Article 78(3) TFEU; QMV; EP consultation
DepartmentHome Office
Document Numbers (a) (36901), 9355/15 + ADD 1, COM(15) 286;

(b) (37010), 11132/15, —

Summary and Committee's conclusions

1.1 Document (a) is the Commission's proposal for a Council Decision establishing a temporary mechanism to relocate 40,000 individuals — 24,000 from Italy, 16,000 from Greece — who are in clear need of international protection to other Member States, with the allocation based on a mandatory distribution key which is intended to reflect the capacity of each Member State to absorb and integrate refugees. The proposal is subject to the UK's Title V (justice and home affairs) opt-in.

1.2 During a special summit on 25/26 June, EU leaders rejected the idea of mandatory EU quotas and concluded that relocation should take place on a purely voluntary basis. Member States were invited to agree, by consensus by the end of July, how the 40,000 individuals eligible for relocation would be distributed between them. A footnote to the Conclusions agreed by the European Council stated, "The UK will not participate".[ 1]

1.3 We considered document (a) at our first meeting on 21 July. Although the Government had, by then, already decided not to opt into the proposal, we recommended that its opt-in decision should be debated on the floor of the House at the earliest opportunity, during the September sitting of Parliament, to ensure full transparency and accountability to Parliament.

1.4 Document (b) is the general approach agreed by the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 20 July. Crucially, it omits the mandatory distribution key proposed by the Commission. Whilst confirming the target of relocating 40,000 individuals, the allocation is based, instead, on voluntary commitments made by Member States and set out in an intergovernmental Resolution also agreed on 20 July.[ 2] The commitments made so far provide for the relocation of only 32,256 individuals — Member States are expected to make up the shortfall by December. The Council general approach confirms that the UK has decided not to participate in the proposed Decision.

1.5 In a Statement to the House on 7 September, the Prime Minister made clear that the UK would not take any individuals in clear need of international protection who have already reached European shores and may be eligible for relocation to other Member States. Instead, the UK will offer resettlement for "up to" 20,000 Syrian refugees from camps bordering Syria "over the rest of this Parliament".[ 3]

1.6 We considered document (b) at our first meeting after the summer recess, on 9 September. It was clear, by then, that the Government had no intention of scheduling the opt-in debate we had requested to take place during the September sitting of Parliament. We sought a full explanation of the Government's reasons for failing to do so, as well as a full response to the questions we had raised on document (a), and on other related EU measures proposed to deal with the migration crisis, in July. We made clear that, in the absence of a full and timely response, we would expect a Minister to appear before us to give evidence in person.

1.7 In this chapter, we report the information provided by the Immigration Minister (James Brokenshire) on recent developments since July.

1.8 As the Minister will be aware, his update letter arrived on the eve of our final meeting before the party conference recess, too late for us to prepare a Report to the House on the progress made in agreeing to relocate 40,000 individuals in clear need of international protection from Greece and Italy to other Member States. The Justice and Home Affairs Council adopted the general approach — document (b) — at a special meeting convened to discuss the humanitarian crisis on 14 September, and embarked immediately on a further round of discussions to relocate an additional 120,000 individuals, reported in chapter 2.

1.9 The Minister offers no apology or explanation for the Government's failure to schedule an opt-in debate during the September sitting of Parliament, despite widespread public and political concern at the scale of the humanitarian crisis confronting the EU and intensive discussions about the adequacy and coherence of the EU's response. To describe the lapse as "unfortunate" only compounds the sense that the Government attaches little importance to the views of Parliament, or the commitments made by the Minister for Europe in January 2011 on enhanced scrutiny of important opt-in decisions. Whilst we recognise that "negotiations are taking place in the context of an emergency situation", they have been protracted because of intractable and bitter divisions amongst Member States on how the EU should respond. It is on such occasions that the views of Parliament should be heard and the Government held to account. Accordingly, we have invited the Minister to give evidence in person at our meeting on 14 October.

1.10 Documents (a) and (b) remain under scrutiny. Our opt-in debate recommendation stands, but we suggest that the debate should take place at the same time as the opt-in debate we have recommended on a further Council Decision to relocate an additional 120,000 individuals (reported in chapter 2).

Full details of the documents: (a) Proposal for a Council Decision establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece: (36901), 9355/15 + ADD 1, COM(15) 286; (b) Council general approach on a proposal for a Council Decision establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece: (37010), 11132/15, —.

Background

1.11 Our earlier Reports, listed at the end of this chapter, provide more detailed information on the background to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean, the proposals put forward by the Commission to achieve a coherent EU response, and the Government's position.

1.12 In light of the failure to provide any response to the questions we raised in July, or to schedule an opt-in debate on document (a) during the September sitting of Parliament, we asked whether the Government intended to honour the commitments made by the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) in January 2011 on scrutiny of opt-in decisions attracting "particularly strong Parliamentary interest". Given the scale of the challenge facing the EU, we requested an assessment of the viability and effectiveness of voluntary measures in ensuring a sustainable response to the migration crisis in the Mediterranean. Specifically, we asked whether the Government considered that responsibility for managing the asylum claims of those who have already crossed the Mediterranean this year should rest with the most affected frontline Member States — Italy, Greece and Hungary. We also sought further information on the outcome of the Government's consultation of the Devolved Administrations, particularly on the merits of relocation and/or resettlement as part of a solution to the current humanitarian crisis.

1.13 On 9 September, the Commission proposed a further package of measures. They include proposals to:

·  relocate a further 120,000 individuals in clear need of international protection from Greece, Hungary and Italy to other Member States;

·  establish a permanent crisis relocation mechanism to ensure a more equitable sharing of responsibility in the event of future migratory pressures overwhelming Member States' asylum systems;

·  agree a common EU list of safe countries of origin; and

·  enhance the effectiveness of the EU return system by means of an EU Action Plan on Return.

The Minister's letter of 15 September 2015

1.14 The Immigration Minister at the Home Office (James Brokenshire), provides an update on recent developments since July. He explains that Member States have exceeded the Commission's target of offering resettlement places to 20,000 individuals beyond the EU's borders who are in need of international protection, but have struggled to reach agreement on relocation, with only 28,190 of the envisaged 40,000 places pledged at the informal Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council on 9 July. He continues:

    "The JHA Council returned to this at an extraordinary meeting on 20 July where voluntary contributions continued to fall short, with 32,256 places pledged.

    "In recent days the Commission has published further proposals to relocate an additional 120,000 individuals from Italy, Greece and Hungary under the temporary mechanism. These will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny and deposited. It has also proposed the establishment of a permanent relocation mechanism which will take the form of an amendment to the Dublin Regulation. The proposals are being discussed today (14 September) at an emergency Justice and Home Affairs Council attended by the Home Secretary. The Government remains clear that relocation is the wrong response to migratory pressures and that we will not participate."

1.15 The Minister notes that document (b) "removed the compulsion to commit to Commission-set quotas on relocation" and constitutes the Council's general approach which he expects to be formally adopted once the process for consulting the European Parliament has concluded. Negotiations will continue within the JHA Council on the Commission's other proposals.

1.16 Turning to the role of Parliament in scrutinising the Government's opt-in decisions, the Minister observes:

    "The Government takes Parliamentary scrutiny of opt-in decisions very seriously and it is unfortunate that on this occasion greater scrutiny has not been possible. As I am sure you will appreciate, negotiations are taking place in the context of an emergency situation, requiring a quick response. During Council meetings the Prime Minister and Home Secretary were required to make Government policy clear."

1.17 In our Second Report of 21 July, we asked the Government to inform us of the progress being made in securing voluntary commitments to relocate 40,000 individuals from Italy and Greece and to explain what contribution the UK intends to make to ease the burden on frontline Member States. We also requested an assessment of the viability and effectiveness of voluntary measures in ensuring a sustainable response to the migration crisis in the Mediterranean. The Minister responds:

    "[T]he July extraordinary Council secured 32,256 relocation places against the 40,000 target. Under the new proposals the Presidency will make efforts to achieve the relocation of a further 120,000 individuals. I will keep you updated once these negotiations have concluded. The UK will not participate in relocation measures but we will continue our significant efforts to ease the burden on frontline Member States by providing practical, on the ground support. In the last three years the UK has contributed more resource to support missions run by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) than any other Member State, with over 1,000 expert working days contributed in deployments to Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and Cyprus.

    "The UK fully supports the establishment of 'hot spots' at pressure points along the external border. The main aim of hotspots is to secure greater control over illegal migrants arriving at pressure points along the EU external border. They are designed to ensure that newly arrived cases are fingerprinted and processed and to identify those who are in need of international protection. We stand ready to provide more resource and support to ensure these are efficient and fit for purpose. We are also clear that they cannot be developed in isolation and must not act merely as a processing mechanism which allows onward movement across Europe. They must also have an effective removal function that swiftly returns economic migrants to their countries of origin in order to break the link between getting on a boat and achieving residence in Europe."

1.18 In his initial Explanatory Memorandum on document (a), the Minister suggested that Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights might "arguably be engaged" as the proposal could result in a more favourable outcome for certain nationalities than would be the case in the absence of a relocation mechanism.[ 4] We asked the Minister whether it was the Government's view that the proposed Council Decision was incompatible with Article 21 of the Charter and whether this incompatibility would provide sufficient grounds to challenge the validity of the proposal, if adopted. The Minister responds:

    "The Government does not consider the proposal to be incompatible with Article 21 and would not give rise to challenge. The right to non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality is not an absolute right. The right may be restricted where it is proportionate and necessary genuinely to meet objectives recognised by the Union. In this instance the Union's objective is to ease the pressure caused by the ongoing migration situation in the Mediterranean on Greece and Italy. Syrian and Eritrean nationals have been selected for the redistribution scheme based on Union figures which demonstrate the exceptionally high grant rate for those two nationalities. The two nationalities are the only ones which exceed a 75% grant rate. All other nationalities will still be entitled to receive the full protection of the EU's Common Asylum System in the first EU country in which they arrive."

Previous Committee Reports

Third Report HC 342-iii (2015-16), chapter 8 (9 September 2015); Second Report HC 342-ii (2015-16), chapter 3 (21 July 2015).


1   Conclusions agreed by the European Council on 25/26 June 2015. Back

2   Resolution on the relocation from Greece and Italy of 40,000 persons in clear need of international protection. Back

3   Hansard, 7 September 2015. Back

4   Article 21(2) of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights states: "Within the scope of application of the Treaties and without prejudice to any of their specific provisions, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited". Back


 
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Prepared 14 October 2015