The Committee considered the following documents:
Application of the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement
The EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement entered into force in October 2014 but the provisions on the readmission of (non-Turkish) third country nationals transiting through Turkey to the EU were intended to take effect in October 2017. Following high level discussions in November and March, the EU and Turkey reached a political agreement to bring forward the implementation of these provisions to 1 June 2016. The EU anticipates that this will make it easier to return irregular migrants entering the EU from Turkey who are not authorised to remain in the EU. In return, the EU has said it will consider lifting visa requirements for Turkish nationals travelling to the Schengen free movement area (but not to the UK) by the end of June. The Committee made clear that it would not clear the proposal until the Government had explained whether or not it intended to opt in—particularly as the Commission and Council contest the Government’s view that the UK’s opt-in applies.
In his response, the Immigration Minister (James Brokenshire) confirms that the Government has decided to opt in. The Committee does not take issue with this decision—as the proposal implements an Agreement which is already binding on the UK, a decision not to opt in would have created legal and operational uncertainty.
Nonetheless, as the Minister fails to mention how the Government voted and whether there has been a scrutiny override, the Committee invites him to clarify the circumstances in which the Decision was adopted and reminds him of the Government’s obligations to Parliament which are set out in its Code of Practice on scrutiny of Title V opt-in decisions.
Not cleared; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee.
The resumption of transfers of asylum seekers to Greece under the Dublin rules
This non-binding Recommendation adopted by the Commission in February sets out the action which Greece needs to take to enable Member States to send back asylum seekers who first entered the EU through Greece (so-called “Dublin transfers”). Dublin transfers to Greece were suspended in 2011 following judgments by the Strasbourg Human Rights Court and the Luxembourg Court of Justice that there were systemic deficiencies in Greece’s asylum system. The decision whether or not to reinstate Dublin transfers to Greece rests with each Member State, subject to oversight by both Courts.
When the Committee considered the Recommendation in March, it asked the Immigration Minister (James Brokenshire) for his assessment of the current situation in Greece and for a clear indication of the Government’s view on the appropriateness of reinstating Dublin transfers in the near future. In his response, the Minister notes that “significant improvements” have been made since 2011 but that “there is still significant work to be done”, particularly in relation to processing capacity and reception arrangements.
The Committee notes that the Commission has recently published a Communication setting out possible reforms to the Dublin rules and EU asylum laws. A number of Member States have questioned the value and effectiveness of the Dublin rules, as well as the principles underpinning them. It seems unlikely that much headway can be made on the resumption of Dublin transfers while the pressures on the Greek asylum system remain intense and various reform options are on the table. The Committee therefore clears the Recommendation from scrutiny but makes clear that the Minister is expected to give early notice of any change in the Government’s position on reinstating Dublin transfers to Greece.
Cleared from scrutiny; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Refugee flows along the Western Balkans route
The Commission report (published in December) reviews the progress made in implementing commitments agreed last October at a summit of leaders of (EU and non-EU) transit and destination countries along the Western Balkans route—then, the principal transit route to the EU. A particular concern was that too many countries were taking unilateral measures which had a significant knock-on effect for the entire region. Although the UK did not participate in the October summit, the Immigration Minister (James Brokenshire) recognised that countries in the Western Balkans had to be part of a comprehensive approach to the migration and refugee crisis and considered that the emphasis placed on collective responsibility in the statement issued by leaders was “broadly right”.
The Committee asked the Minister to provide further information on the UK’s response to requests for assistance made by countries in the region and by EU agencies and to comment on the introduction of nationality-based screening at the borders of some Western Balkans countries. He now does so, providing details of the UK’s contribution to various Western Balkans countries through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and the expertise and equipment made available to Frontex and the European Asylum Support Office.
The Committee notes that the abrupt closure of borders along the Western Balkans route has led to many thousands (estimated to number around 55,000) being stranded in Greece. On 21 April, the Minister announced a substantial increase in the resources being provided by the UK to assist Greece. The main focus now is on implementing the Agreement with Turkey to end irregular migration to the EU—the Committee has recommended various documents relating to the Agreement and to the wider functioning of the Schengen area for debate on the floor of the House. Given the pace of developments and the shift of focus towards implementing the EU-Turkey Agreement, the Committee clears the Commission report from scrutiny.
Cleared from scrutiny; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee.
Strengthening checks at the EU’s external borders
This proposal would amend the Schengen Borders Code (in which the UK does not participate) to require Schengen States to apply systematic (rather than, as now, discretionary) checks on the entry and exit of EU citizens (and others with free movement rights) at the EU’s external Schengen borders. The checks are intended to verify identity, as well as the validity and authenticity of travel documents, and help detect foreign terrorist fighters and others who present a threat to internal security. The proposal also extends existing mandatory checks applicable to third country nationals on entry to the Schengen area to exit. Although the proposed Regulation will not apply to the UK, it will have an impact on UK (and all other Member State) nationals crossing the EU’s external Schengen borders and may affect the movement of people across the border between Spain and Gibraltar.
The latest update from the Immigration Minister (James Brokenshire) provides details of the general approach agreed by the February Justice and Home Affairs Council and seeks to clarify how the proposal will apply in the four Member States in which the Schengen rule book is not yet fully in force (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania). The Committee asks the Minister whether the proposal contains sufficient safeguards to prevent or mitigate the risk that Spain will use the intensified checks as a political tool at its border with Gibraltar. It also asks the Minister (again) to specify clearly the borders (internal and external) at which the intensified checks will apply.
Not cleared; recommended for debate with various documents relating to the functioning of the Schengen free movement area and the EU-Turkey Agreement to end irregular migration to the UK; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee.
Posted workers directive
The Commission has proposed to amend current legislation on “posted workers” i.e. those who are temporarily posted to work in one country by a company based in another Member State in order to apply the principle of “equal pay for equal work in the same place”. This seeks to address concern that such workers are paid less than local workers, allowing foreign companies to undercut local companies and placing a downward pressure on local wages and conditions. The Committee considered a letter from the Government which made it clear that the UK and other Member States are yet to adopt positions, but that concerns have been raised about the quality of the Impact Assessment. Since the Committee first considered the proposal, it has become clear that the proposal is engendering a great deal of controversy among national parliaments across the EU and many have sent “Reasoned Opinions” objecting to the proposal.
The ESC’s view remains that a Reasoned Opinion is not appropriate, since the identified objective—to resolve concerns arising from implementation of the existing Directive, which in itself applies to a cross-border policy—could only be achieved by EU-level action. The Committee is awaiting the Government’s analysis of the impact of the proposal in the UK. In the meantime, we have asked our colleagues on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee for their opinion.
Not cleared; drawn to the attention of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (opinion requested) and the Work and Pensions Committee.
European Globalisation Adjustment Fund
The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) is designed to provide support for workers made redundant as a result of major structural changes in world trade patterns due to globalisation. It was established in 2006 and renewed, for the financial period 2014–20 in 2013.
We have today cleared from scrutiny two applications, from France and Greece, for EGF support, while drawing them to the attention of the Work and Pensions Committee. We note that:
10 May 2016