Commission Work Programme 2015: A new approach to Migration and Asylum ?
The central goals of the new Commission, in particular growth and employment, largely determine its work programme on migration issues.
The main legislative proposal for the new Commission in the field of migration is the so called “Blue Card Directive”. It is aimed at attracting talent to the European Union, in the great global competition with other developed economies, which require highly qualified people in order to continue innovating. We must remember the inability of the earlier version of that Directive to generate the interest of foreign talent to come and work in our European countries: in fact, out of 12,000 permits issued under this EU legal framework, 11,500 were granted by Germany. The low number of highly skilled workers interested in coming to the EU and the absorption of nearly all of them by a single Member State was undoubtedly a clear sign that the legislation in place was in need of substantial reform.
The Work Programme also envisages intensifying cooperation with third-countries in migration issues, fostering burden-sharing and solidarity among Member States, and fighting against irregular migration and smuggling. It is to be hoped that in subsequent years the European Commission will specify the content of these proposals in concrete legal and non-legal initiatives. For 2015, a very small number of initiatives are to be launched, based on the Juncker Political Guidelines, compared with the measures promoted by the Barroso Commission. As for the so-called "REFIT actions" (Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme, aiming at EU measures becoming lighter, simpler and less costly, correcting burdens, inconsistencies and ineffectiveness), the Commission proposals are more numerous: evaluation of certain legislation (Visa Information System and unauthorised entry, transit and residence) and the FRONTEX Regulation, the legal reform of the Codification of Visa Regulation, and a "fitness check" of the directives on long-term residence, single permit (work & residence) and, more generally, the current legal migration acquis. Finally, the proposal for a regulation on the establishment of an evaluation mechanism to verify the application of the Schengen acquis will be withdrawn. The fact that human trafficking is not explicitly mentioned in the Work Programme does not exclude it from the priorities of the Commission; on the contrary, it is mentioned a couple of times in the Juncker Political Guidelines, in the context of cross-border criminality and immigration policy.
All this does not mean that the rest of migration areas remain stagnant in the European Union as earlier initiatives continue to be active in the Council: thus, the current Latvian Presidency Programme explicitly pays attention to the reform of the Dublin Regulation concerning unaccompanied minors. On the other hand, the work of the European Commission extends likewise to the supervision of the implementation of adopted standards. To those already in force, new legislation will be added in 2015: the directives that determine the conditions of reception of asylum seekers and the procedure for obtaining such status, and the Eurodac Regulation for the comparison of fingerprints.
Furthermore, the Commission now seems more interested in the implementation of the standards already passed than in the adoption of new directives and regulations. Some legislative restraint seems reasonable. The need for continued monitoring of the adequacy of existing rules and, both their transposition (in the case of directives) and their practical implementation by EU Member States is as important as any new measures. Nonetheless, the draft of the "Guidelines" or "handbooks" by the European Commission (such as the one on alleged marriages of convenience in the context of EU law on free movement of EU citizens, September 2014) is also a work of great practical value.
The political momentum on migration is particularly sensitive, given the increased negative perceptions in European societies towards that phenomenon: some of their citizens associate it with excessive economic pressure on welfare systems and with the increasing rate of criminality. The recovery of confidence of citizens, as the 2015 Work Programme seeks to achieve, is a basic objective for the new European Commission. In this work it will often have to deal with a hostile social and political context where migration – and freedom of movement - is at the core of national political debates. In 2011 the statistics showed that 42% of EU citizens were in favour of promoting labour migration (versus 46% against); but in recent years, citizens’ concerns about immigration have increased. Without falling into a dangerous populism, it is important to restore the confidence of citizens, and to seek that both the EU and its Member States will be able to improve the management of migration flows while fighting, with evidences and facts, certain distorted narratives about migration, migrants and their families.
José Luis Bazán