This opinion provides with the EESC's views on the new EU Strategy on voluntary return and reintegration, a key objective under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. The EESC welcomes the strategy as a management tool that seeks to improve coordination and Member States' shared objectives in the field of migration governance. It also agrees with the Commission's approach of further reviewing and harmonising the existing instruments, in order to, among other things, improve the fragmented approach to the issue, reduce the costs of return and increase the funding allocated to programmes. The EESC however continues to hold the view that the strategic weakness of the European Union's immigration and asylum policy is its almost exclusive focus on tackling irregular situations, whether at the border or through voluntary and forced returns.
Asylum and migration management regulation and crisis and force majeure regulation - Related Opinions
The EESC describes integration as a dynamic process, involving both migrants and the receiving society. It believes that migration challenges should be addressed in a holistic manner. Gender equality should become one of the key pillars in integration. Migrant families and parents should be involved in the local and school community as from the early stages of reception. On language training, the EESC believes that this should foresee cultural exploration and involvement in the community and society, as well as guidance and information to migrants on the advantages and the aims of language training. In view of the disparities that exist in Member States with regard to language teaching, the EESC calls for common EU guidelines for language training, which can help ensure a unified and holistic approach.
In this own-initiative opinion, the EESC calls on the European Union to develop a coherent and uniform approach to protecting unaccompanied foreign minors in Europe. It urges the European Commission to draw up a Directive on the protection of unaccompanied minors that serves the best interests of the child. The principle of "the best interests of the child" should take precedence over all other national and international law. The EESC calls on the Member States to evaluate minority based on a body of evidence, consisting principally of the declarations by the person in question, civil status documents presented and interviews with the person. Given that bone tests are not really reliable, the EESC calls for them to simply be stopped.
When it comes to development and EU-Africa relations, the EESC consistently emphasised the importance of sustainable development and cooperation based on the rule of law and the respect for human rights. Initiatives focused on trade, investment and business relations with Africa could be welcomed, but not to the detriment of traditional development policies focusing on reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). EU and Africa leaders agreed in 2015 at the Valletta summit on migration on setting up the EU Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), as the main instrument of EU external migration policy. The Fund finances the development of border protection capacities, but also long-term development policy projects so as to decrease the likelihood of further migration.
The EESC notes that the Global Compact is a non-binding instrument that does not create new obligations for EU Member States and its content is fully in line with the principles and values of the European Union, most notably Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, which includes – as its main values – respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. The EESC therefore regrets the fact that the Compact has not been approved by all Member States and recommends that the EU clarify and build on the Compact's objectives using appropriate mechanisms.
The EESC welcomes the Commission's efforts to speed up returns, but regrets that the recast was not supported by an impact assessment and/or public consultation on the existing Directive 2008/115/EC.
The EESC believes that an effective returns policy should be part of a truly common policy and legislation for legal migration and for asylum, which is currently missing, giving the impression that the EU adopts a purely security and policing-focused vision of migration as a criminal matter. Such a comprehensive common EU migration policy would also be the best answer to the extreme right-wing and nationalist discourse on migration.
The EESC welcomes the Commission's efforts to making the return procedure quicker and more efficient. Even so, consideration should be given to how realistic the proposed time-scales are and an assessment made of the obstacles that could frustrate this intention.
The EESC points out that a non-immigration scenario in Europe would mean among other things that Member States' economies would suffer substantially; demographic challenges would be aggravated; pension systems might become unsustainable; racism and xenophobia would flourish even more than at present. Non-integration bears economic, socio-cultural and political risks and costs. Hence, investment in migrant integration is the best insurance policy against potential future costs, problems and tensions.
The EESC supports the proposal to provide the Agency with its own permanent operational arm made up of 10 000 staff, while it recommends that cooperation between the Agency and the national administrations be defined and organised at European level in a clear and transparent manner.
Given the role which would be played by the Agency in the event of detention of individuals and their potential return to their countries of origin, the Committee recommends that statutory staff are given training modules on respect for fundamental rights.
The Committee calls for the EESC to be part of the Consultative Forum.
The EESC welcomes the new funds, very different to each other, that will give continuity to the work undertaken, and approves of the increase in their financial allocation. Equal treatment and anti-discrimination policies represent the pillars of European policies, including those concerning the integration of third-country nationals. The removal of the word "integration" from the title is worrying, as this could be seen as reflecting diminishing concern for this aspect. The Committee welcomes the importance given to flexibility in both funds, as this entails acknowledging the importance of better reflecting the needs of each Member States within the framework of joint action.