Law students from the European Union are reporting for JURIST on law-related events in and affecting the European Union and its member states. Jacky-Long Mouthuy is a law student at Maastricht University. He files this dispatch from Maastricht, Netherlands.
EU heads of state and heads of government sitting in the European Council concluded their latest summit meeting in Brussels at 3 AM Friday. A variety of issues were discussed, including Ukraine, the economy, migration and other items. If one expression must be drawn from the Council’s conclusions on migration, it is “increasing returns and readmissions.” The European Union is experiencing a new wave of migration, fueling debates on a new approach to the issue. Frontex, the EU’s border and coast guard agency, reported around 330,000 illegal crossings at the EU’s external borders in 2022, the highest number since the 2015-2016 refugee crisis and a 64 percent increase compared to 2021.
At the press conference following the conclusion of the meeting, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the launch of two pilot projects to curb migration flows. The first is to hasten the processing of asylum claims through the sharing of best practices and enhancement of cooperation between Member States in order to ensure the effective returns of migrants in order to increase the number of returns and readmissions. The second is to provide more resources for border controls. The measure requires increased funding by the EU and the Member States to finance more personnel, vehicles, aircraft, electronic surveillance, cameras and the construction of watch towers. When asked whether the building of walls and fences was on the table of discussions, von der Leyen did not exclude that possibility while emphasising that such measures can only be efficient with other methods of border surveillance. The question follows calls from Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party, the largest political party sitting in the European Parliament, for the construction of walls and fences, which he described as “absolutely necessary,” a statement heavily criticised by the S&D (socialist) and Renew (liberal) groups.
The European Council also announced its intent to further cooperation with neighbouring countries, countries of transit and countries of origin. This implies the conclusion of more bilateral agreements like the EU-Türkiye and EU-Libya agreements financing neighbouring countries to keep migrants away from the EU. Those agreements have been condemned by several human rights NGOs as neighbouring countries fail to provide living conditions to migrants respecting human rights and the EU does not seem to take any significant steps to resolve human rights issues resulting from its migration policy.
The European Council failed to address human rights issues pertaining to the management of migration flows in its conclusions. The EU intends to increase Frontex’s role and resources in controlling the external borders while disregarding the agency’s role in illegal pushbacks. The special meeting was a missed opportunity to address this issue which can no longer be ignored by the EU executive as NGOs and OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office, have documented Frontex’s wrongdoings. Whilst the EU is slowly barricading itself against migrants, frontline EU Member States tag along and are adopting laws to prevent NGOs from rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean and from bringing them into the Union. Despite recommendations by the Council of Europe, a human rights organisation unrelated to the EU, to Greece and Italy not to adopt those laws criminalising NGOs, the EU remains silent. Charles Michel, the European Council’s President, said that the question of NGOs rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean will be discussed at the European Council’s next meeting on migration in March.