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Document 52002AE0684

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on:the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on an open method of coordination for the Community Immigration Policy, and (COM(2001) 387 final)the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on the Common Asylum Policy, introducing an open coordination method (COM(2001) 710 final)

OJ C 221, 17.9.2002, p. 49–53 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)


Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on:the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on an open method of coordination for the Community Immigration Policy, and (COM(2001) 387 final)the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on the Common Asylum Policy, introducing an open coordination method (COM(2001) 710 final)

Official Journal C 221 , 17/09/2002 P. 0049 - 0053

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on:

- the "Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on an open method of coordination for the Community Immigration Policy", and

(COM(2001) 387 final)

- the "Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on the Common Asylum Policy, introducing an open coordination method"

(COM(2001) 710 final)

(2002/C 221/12)

On 21 January 2002, the Commission decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned communications.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 13 May 2002. The rapporteur was Ms zu Eulenburg.

At its 391st plenary session of 29 and 30 May 2002 (meeting of 29 May), the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 106 votes in favour, none against and one abstention.

1. Introduction

1.1. In December 2001, the Laeken European Council, drawing on the October 1999 Tampere conclusions, reiterated the intention of adopting a common asylum and immigration policy. The purpose of such a policy is to maintain the balance between (i) the protection of refugees under the Geneva Convention, (ii) the desire for a better life and (iii) the reception capacity of the Union and the Member States. However, the debate about Commission initiatives on this front so far - draft regulations and directives, only a few of which have as yet been adopted - has shown that some Member States still have a hard time reshaping their national agenda in a way that is conducive to a common policy.

1.2. The need for a common policy based on the Tampere objectives of creating an area of freedom, security and justice remains beyond dispute. Community policy has to bear in mind two aspects: (i) immigration for humanitarian reasons and to reunite families, and (ii) migration for economic or professional reasons.

1.3. The Committee has studied the Commission proposals and initiatives closely and made detailed submissions on them. It has broadly welcomed the initiatives so far and encouraged the Community to press ahead - in a spirit of humanitarianism and solidarity - with the work that is now under way.

2. Gist of the proposals

2.1. Coordination of immigration policy

2.1.1. Building on the Communication on a Community immigration policy, the Commission concludes that, as an adjunct to the legislative measures provided for under Articles 61-69 of the EC Treaty, the open coordination method is an appropriate means of reflecting the multi-dimensional aspects of migratory phenomena, the large number of different actors involved and the responsibility of Member States.

2.1.2. The purpose of this method is to coordinate application of the proposed European legislation in the Member States - and to supplement the common policy that emerges as a result - in order to help ensure the further, coherent development of the key components of a common immigration policy in line with joint rules.

2.1.3. The planned guidelines tie in with the Tampere objectives and cover the following areas: management of migration flows; admission of economic migrants; partnership with third countries; and the integration of third-country nationals.

2.2. Coordination of asylum policy

2.2.1. In the field of asylum policy, the open coordination method is designed to assist and complement the Community legislation required by the Treaty, accompanying and smoothing the transition to the second stage of the common European asylum system. At the same time as establishing the legislative framework, the Commission is seeking to:

- formulate proposals for European guidelines and for the content of national action plans,

- coordinate national policies,

- promote the exchange of best practice,

- monitor and evaluate the impact of Community policy,

- organise regular consultations with third countries and international organisations.

2.2.2. The guidelines focus on the following areas: information about movements of refugees and asylum-seekers; the development of an efficient asylum system that offers protection to those who need it in line with the Geneva Convention; returns; relations with third countries; and integration/inclusion.

3. General comments

3.1. The Committee welcomes the use of the open coordination method in immigration and asylum policy as an additional mechanism to develop and support the common legislative framework. It regrets that Community legislation is advancing only slowly.

3.2. Use of this method stems from the distinctive features of the policy area involved. For one thing, it facilitates cooperation and exchange among the Member States prior to definitive legislation. It is also important for the transposition of future Community law. For another thing, all Member States face similar difficulties in connection with immigration, albeit to a greater or lesser extent, and with differing degrees of importance. The trans-European nature and the "transferability" of the problems at hand warrant closer cooperation based on common objectives and guidelines.

3.3. Asylum and immigration policy are closely connected. Action in one area has an impact on the other. Past experience has shown that moves designed to place a stop on immigration have resulted in a greater influx by other means (e.g. via asylum systems), and in undesirable developments such as illegal immigration, smuggling and trafficking. Despite this correlation, the Committee feels that the open coordination method should be modulated to reflect the requirements of immigration policy on the one hand, and asylum policy on the other - not least because asylum and refugee policy is already substantially determined by international obligations such as the Geneva Convention on refugees, and because both Article 63 of the EC Treaty and the Tampere conclusions envisage more practical harmonisation steps and objectives. Moreover, humanitarian concerns should not be confused with immigration policy objectives.

3.4. The Committee underscores how important it is that the common legislative framework for immigration and asylum policy should move forward at the same pace. The Committee feels it would be wrong if Member States were to agree on the (if anything) restrictive measures under the common policy, without, at the same time, deciding on constructive action in pursuit of an overall approach.

3.5. Exact data are essential to assess and evaluate the immigration situation in the Member States. Despite the availability of statistics and figures in the Member States about immigration and asylum seeker movements, no comparable data exist at European level. One reason for this is the differing terminology and definitions that are used. The Committee would therefore recommend that joint statistical procedures and systems be worked out to facilitate assessment.

3.6. The Committee would deplore a situation in which use of the open coordination method resulted in a failure to implement upcoming legislative measures. The open coordination method does not replace the legislative framework that is to be established. Where this method is applied therefore, progress made in implementing legislation in the Member States should also be included in the guideline process.

4. Specific comments

4.1. Coordination of immigration policy

4.1.1. The proposed guidelines draw on - and seek to foster - the objectives of common immigration policy legislation. Given demographic requirements, the guidelines rightly stress the need for procedures able (i) to link immigration and asylum policy on the one hand, and economic and social policy on the other, and (ii) to make clear the correlation between the two.

4.1.2. Management of migration flows Guideline 1: Developing a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach to migration management at national level The Committee endorses the approach set out in this guideline. However, it feels that this ought not to be a mere technical analysis. Migration management procedures must never lose sight of the dignity of the people affected by the measures. Guideline 2: Improving information available on legal possibilities for admission to the EU and on the consequences of using illegal channels This guideline covers a key factor in preventing illegal or clandestine immigration. Reliable information about legal immigration options is however conditional on a wide-ranging, plausible approach to the immigration issue. Information campaigns are worthless without a clear and transparent legal framework that is also applied in practice. Guideline 3: Reinforcing the fight against illegal immigration, smuggling and trafficking This guideline addresses promoting an approach based on a balance between humanitarian responsibilities, lawful immigration and the fight against criminal smuggling and trafficking networks. The proposed measures however - tracking, sanctions and stepped-up controls - do not deal fully with the issue. In its opinions on the Communication on a Community immigration policy(1), and the Communication on the common policy on illegal immigration(2) the Committee points out the key need to legalise the situation of people who, not least as a result of restrictive immigration policy, are living a clandestine existence within the Community. Illegality arises not only because people have entered a country illegally. Depending on the legal basis in the individual Member States, the loss of existing rights of residence can also place people in an illegal situation. The Committee feels that the guideline process should also consider (i) the living conditions of foreigners and their families who are illegally resident in the Member States, and (ii) exchanges between Member States on what legalisation (regularisation) measures are feasible and appropriate.

4.1.3. Admission of economic migrants The Committee welcomes the opening-up of the European labour market to managed, demand-based immigration. It has studied and assessed the relevant proposed directives on, for instance, the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purpose of paid employment and self-employed economic activities(3). The Committee recommends a more pro-active and rapid approach to providing opportunities for legal immigration, and also attaches tremendous importance to cooperation with the countries of origin. Guideline 4: Establishing a coherent and transparent policy and procedures for opening the labour market to third-country nationals within the framework of the European employment strategy It is important to consider the contribution migrants can make to the labour market, both in terms of social integration and with a view to fostering receptiveness towards them. The Committee welcomes the role to be given to non-governmental organisations and migrants' associations. The Committee agrees that particular attention must be paid to the situation and needs of migrant women. It proposes special consideration for this issue in the Employment Guidelines in a bid to combat discrimination and foster social integration through both access to employment and equal opportunities.

4.1.4. Partnership with third countries Guideline 5: Integrating migration issues into relations with third countries, and in particular with countries of origin This guideline ties in closely with political, economic and social issues, and with questions of development policy and human rights. In its opinion on a Community immigration policy(4) the Committee noted key elements of the partnership: increased support for economic and human development in the countries of origin; enhanced mobility between countries of origin and host countries; and support for voluntary return measures. The measures proposed under Guideline 5 are important factors in a common approach to migration. Particular attention should be paid to measures to promote mobility between Member States and third countries.

4.1.5. Integration of third-country nationals Guideline 6: Ensuring the development of integration policies for third-country nationals residing legally on the territories of the Member States Vigorous backing must be given to social integration policies by pursuing a forward-looking approach to fostering integration. The success of a common immigration policy indisputably depends on integrating migrants into the host country. The basic elements of this are fair treatment, equal rights and obligations, equal opportunities, measures to combat discrimination, raised public awareness and participation in public life. The purpose of a comprehensive, long-term integration policy must be to ensure that migrants can take an equal part in the life of society (participation and equal opportunities). It is vital to promote all areas of social integration, both separately and interactively, including the labour market, education, language, culture and social and legal integration. Another key aspect of integration is participation in public life by virtue of certain civic rights - and civic duties. Integration policy must be understood as an ongoing task of social policy. The measures outlined in this guideline pick up on these elements for developing an integration policy. It is particularly important to foster language learning - an essential condition of successful integration. Knowledge of the language is essential to be able to take part in the cultural, social and political life of the host country. Equally, improving the possibilities for learning foreign languages in the Member States can also play a major part in getting to know each other and understand each other better and thus in promoting the reception and integration of migrants. The Committee endorses the special role given to local and regional actors, the social partners, civil society and migrants themselves in developing and implementing such integration strategies. In many Member States, it will be possible to draw on the experience of existing networks and social services involved in providing migrants with care and advice.

4.2. Coordination in asylum policy

4.2.1. The Committee considers the proposed guidelines helpful in achieving a more coherent common asylum policy. Although migration and refugee policy are interdependent and, in terms of immigration, can also be linked, the reception of refugees for humanitarian reasons should not be subject to the social, economic and demographic requirements of a common immigration policy.

4.2.2. First guideline: Improving understanding of migratory flows connected with humanitarian admissions Understanding migration flows, and the causes and reasons behind it, is a key factor in assessing future policies and strategies. Political action can be improved by developing mechanisms for the exchange and use of information and analysis. Helpful pointers on this front can also be given by those non-governmental organisations that care for refugees in the Member States and are also heavily involved in social and economic development in many countries of origin. Another useful longer-term option might be to establish a documentation centre for relevant information on countries of origin and case law, that is open to all decision-makers and to all those working in the immigration field as it relates to asylum policy.

4.2.3. Second guideline: Developing an efficient asylum system The Committee would draw attention to the points made in its opinions on the Communication: Towards a common asylum procedure and a uniform status, valid throughout the Union, for persons granted asylum(5) and on the Proposal for a Council Directive laying down minimum standards on the reception of applicants for asylum in Member States(6) which, in essence, back up the Commission proposals. The Committee welcomes the proposed measures designed to foster the development of an efficient asylum system. It will be particularly important to work out common criteria for lodging applications. In its opinion on the Proposal for a Council Regulation establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national(7), the Committee points out the need for appropriate harmonisation in order to reduce the significance of those factors that influence an asylum-seeker's choice of country in which to lodge his or her application. In terms of working out common criteria, this aspect should in particular be addressed as part of the guideline process.

4.2.4. Third guideline: Improving the effectiveness of the policy on returns Immigration policy and management should also always contain a returns strand, based on consultation and cooperation with the countries of origin and transit, and the principle that return should be voluntary. The experience of Member States and non-governmental organisations - for instance with return programmes - should be taken into account here. The procedures for involuntary repatriation mentioned under point d) should not be linked with a returns policy based on cooperation, flexibility, free choice and support.

4.2.5. Fourth guideline: Including matters relating to international protection in relations with third countries Just as with immigration policy, relations with third countries have an important role in issues of international protection; particular attention must therefore be given to the external dimension.

4.2.6. Fifth guideline: Ensuring that policies are framed to promote the integration or inclusion of beneficiaries of international protection in a Member State The importance of integration has already been noted in connection with immigration policy. The proposed measures - such as taking account of the special needs of children and unaccompanied minors or ensuring the participation of the various social and civil players at local and regional level - are key elements of an effective integration policy. With regard to the measures under point f) in particular - i.e. to provide health services for victims of violence, trauma, torture or any other form of inhuman or degrading treatment - many schemes are in place in the Member States that could serve as useful models.

5. Conclusion/summing up

5.1. Application of the proposed legislative framework

5.1.1. The open coordination method is a good way to achieve coherence between the various national policies. It should be used to enable the Member States to move forward together towards the objectives defined in Tampere - a European area of freedom, security and justice. Use of the open coordination method must not however result in a delay in applying the legislative framework laid down in the Treaty and confirmed in Tampere. Member States are called upon to press ahead without delay with the steps that are deemed necessary and right.

5.2. Inclusion of the candidate countries

5.2.1. Consideration must be given even at this stage to including the candidate countries in the guideline process. The open coordination method would make it possible - even before the establishment of any framework for lawmaking - to introduce cooperation measures that may be useful in achieving certain objectives (such as managing migration flows or developing an efficient asylum system), while at the same time bearing in mind the particular circumstances of every country involved, without making excessive demands on them.

5.3. Involving civil society

5.3.1. The experience over many years of associations, non-governmental organisations and social partners in providing migrants and refugees with social advice, care and support is vital. The organisations working in the Member States have the requisite aid arrangements in place to help foster the reception, acceptance and integration of migrants. They must be involved as equal partners in the discussion process, especially with regard to the action plans at national, regional and local level.

5.4. The public

5.4.1. The Committee again notes the need for action (i) to raise public awareness of immigration requirements and the concerns of migrants (both for economic and also for humanitarian reasons), (ii) to secure a favourable climate of acceptance and (iii) to help combat racism and xenophobia. However, such measures can only be successful if they are also backed by political leaders and are reflected in political action.

Brussels, 29 May 2002.

The President

of the Economic and Social Committee

Göke Frerichs

(1) OJ C 260, 17.9.2001.

(2) EESC opinion adopted on 24.4.2002.

(3) OJ C 80, 3.4.2002.

(4) OJ C 260, 17.9.2001.

(5) OJ C 260, 17.9.2001.

(6) OJ C 48, 21.2.2002.

(7) EESC opinion of 20.3.2002.