Documents considered by the Committee on 4 July 2018 Contents

9Establishing a European network of immigration liaison officers

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee

Document details

Proposal for a Regulation on the creation of a European network of immigration liaison officers (recast)

Legal base

Articles 74 and 79(2) TFEU, ordinary legislative procedure, QMV


Home Office

Document Number

(39717), 9036/18 + ADDs 1–2, COM(18) 303

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

9.1EU Member States currently deploy around 500 Immigration Liaison Officers (“ILOs”) to 105 third (non-EU) countries.207 Since 2004, these ILOs have operated as part of local or regional networks, with meetings convened and coordinated by the Member State holding (or acting as) the Presidency of the EU Council.208 In recent years, their numbers have been supplemented by European Migration Liaison Officers (“EMLOs”) deployed by the Commission in 13 priority countries and by officers from the EU’s European Border and Coast Guard Agency (formerly Frontex).209

9.2Whilst recognising that ILOs remain “highly relevant in the current global migration context”, the Commission considers that the networks established in 2004 do not ensure “optimal utilisation” of their “operational expertise, first-hand knowledge and contacts in third countries”.210 Its proposal for a Regulation would establish a European network of immigration liaison officers to strengthen cooperation, information exchange, and coordination amongst ILOs and EMLOs so that they contribute more effectively to the EU’s migration policy priorities: better management of migration flows and of the EU’s external borders; the prevention and countering of illegal migration, migrant smuggling and human trafficking; and support for the return and readmission of illegal migrants.

9.3The main change proposed by the Commission is the creation of a Steering Board on which each Member State, the Commission, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Europol and the EU Asylum Agency would be represented. The Board would be chaired by the Commission and meet at least twice a year. It would agree a two-year programme establishing “priorities and activities” for the networks, oversee their work and identify deployment gaps. It would also be responsible for ensuring that ILOs upload and exchange information through a secure web-based information exchange platform.211 The Commission anticipates that its proposal would improve the flow of strategic and operational information “upwards” from the networks to the EU and its Agencies as well as “horizontally” across participating Member States.

9.4Other changes envisaged in the proposed Regulation would:

9.5The proposed Regulation would build on, and form part of, the Schengen rule book as ILOs make an important contribution to the management of the EU’s external borders. Although the UK does not participate in the Schengen free movement area or apply Schengen rules on external border controls, it does take part in some Schengen measures concerning illegal immigration, including the existing ILO network. Under the Schengen Protocol annexed to the EU Treaties, the UK will be bound by the proposed Regulation unless the Government notifies the Council within three months that it does not wish to participate.213

9.6Third countries associated with the implementation, application and development of Schengen (Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland) would be entitled to participate in the network’s Steering Board as non-voting observers. Other non-EU and non-Schengen participants may be invited to attend as observers at the discretion of the Steering Board.

9.7The Commission envisages that the network would be financed by the EU’s Internal Security Fund (the component on support for the management of external borders and the common visa policy) until the end of 2020 and by a similar budget line in the next Multiannual Financial Framework (covering the period 2021–27). The UK does not participate in the relevant EU funding instrument.

9.8In her Explanatory Memorandum of 5 June, the Immigration Minister (Caroline Nokes) confirms that the UK deploys ILOs overseas, focusing on illegal immigration (Immigration Enforcement International staff) and returns (Migration and Returns Liaison Officers). She describes the proposed Regulation as “a bid by the Commission to provide an over-arching structure” to task and manage the activities of Member States’ ILOs more systematically and highlights the creation of a Steering Board as “the key new element”. Whilst the aims of the proposed European network and the role of ILOs “are aligned with UK migration priorities”, a key issue for the Government will be to determine the extent to which the proposed Regulation would “impinge on a Member State’s ability to task their own staff effectively, without oversight of the Commission, and to develop bilateral relationships with third countries”.

9.9The Minister indicates that the Government will seek to “maintain the ability to continue good local working relationships with EU partners and those outside the EU” and to “align activity with both EU and non-EU partners where relevant, whilst maintaining the ability to follow its own priorities”. In deciding whether to opt out of, or remain bound by, the proposed Regulation, the Government will have particular regard to the effectiveness of the existing Regulation, the extent to which the changes proposed would bring greater benefits for Member States, and the UK’s decision to leave the EU in March 2019. She adds:

“Where the UK has no ILO posted to a third country there are benefits in utilising EU or Member State ILOs to further UK objectives on migration. Both opting out and exit from the EU may impact on the UK’s ability to utilise these resources.”

9.10Should the UK decide to opt out of the proposed Regulation, and once the UK is no longer a member of the EU, the Minister notes that it would be possible to seek an invitation to Steering Board meetings as an observer.

9.11The Minister expects the Austrian Presidency (in post from July to December 2018) to “take forward and finalise negotiations” on the proposed Regulation.

Our Conclusions

9.12We ask the Minister to provide further information on:

The need for EU action

9.13In her subsidiarity assessment, the Minister accepts that more effective coordination amongst ILOs deployed by Member States, the Commission and EU agencies “cannot be achieved by Member States alone” and that EU action is justified. This is difficult to reconcile with the view expressed later in her Explanatory Memorandum that the 2004 Regulation creating the existing ILO network (which this proposal would repeal and replace) was “unnecessary”, since ILOs from EU Member States and from other third countries (the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) shared “common goals” and had in an interest in establishing local coordination on the ground. We ask the Minister whether she considers that the specific changes proposed in the Regulation, which place greater weight on the EU dimension of external migration policy, justify this type of legislative intervention by the EU.

The UK’s Schengen opt-out

9.14We ask the Minister to confirm the date by which the Government must notify its opt-out decision. Should the Government decide to opt out, we would welcome her assessment of the implications for the UK’s continued participation in the existing ILO network established in 2004 until exit and during the post-exit transition/implementation period.214

9.15We note that the network would be funded (until the end of 2020) from the borders and visa component of the EU Internal Security Fund. As the UK does not participate in this Fund, we ask the Minister whether the UK would be expected to make a financial contribution towards the administrative and operational costs of the network if the Government were to decide to participate in the proposed Regulation.

Third country participation in ILO networks

9.16In its consultation of stakeholders, the Commission reports that Member States underlined the importance of cooperation with ILOs deployed by non-EU countries and requested flexibility in deciding on the formation of local and regional networks.215 The proposed Regulation would empower the Steering Board to invite third country representatives to attend its meetings but does not appear to envisage the inclusion of third country ILOs in local or regional cooperation networks. We ask the Minister whether this is her understanding of the Commission proposal and how this would affect the operation of the existing networks.

Brexit implications

9.17We ask the Minister to explain how the UK’s exit from the EU will affect the UK’s ability to participate in local and regional ILO networks established under the proposed Regulation and to access information exchanged through the EU’s secure web-based information exchange platform. Does she anticipate that a reduction in access would have resource implications for the UK, necessitating the deployment of more ILOs in third countries?

9.18Pending further information, the proposed Regulation remains under scrutiny. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents

Proposal for a Regulation on the creation of a European network of immigration liaison officers (recast): (39717), 9036/18 + ADDs 1–2, COM(18) 303.

Previous Committee Reports

None on this document.

207 17 EU Member States, plus Switzerland and Norway, deploy ILOs.

208 See Council Regulation (EC) No 377/2004 on the creation of an immigration liaison officers network, as amended by Regulation (EU) 493/2011.

209 EMLOs are deployed in Ethiopia, Jordan, Lebanon, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Serbia, Sudan, Tunisia and Turkey.

210 See pp 2–5 of the Commission’s explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposed Regulation.

211 The information would include relevant documents, reports and analytical products in the area of immigration as well as factual information on the host third countries or regions.

212 The UK uses the ILO network to tackle organised immigration crime “upstream”.

213 The three-month opt-out period starts to run from the date on which the last language version of the proposed Regulation is published.

214 Under Article 5(3) of the Schengen Protocol, the Council may decide that the UK can no longer participate in the exiting ILO network if it considers that the UK’s opt-out from the proposed Regulation would seriously affect the practical operability of various parts of the Schengen rule book.

215 See p.7 of the Commission’s explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposed Regulation.

Published: 10 July 2018