The European Court of Auditors (ECA) announced yesterday that it has launched an audit of EU’s cooperation with third countries on the return and readmission of irregular migrants.
“Return” means the process of non-EU nationals going back, either voluntarily or through enforcement, to their country of origin or transit, or to a non-EU country of their choice that will accept them. Readmission of a country’s own nationals is an obligation under international law.
The auditors will assess whether the measures taken by the EU and the member states after the refugee crisis and the mass influx of migrants to Europe in 2015 have improved cooperation with the countries concerned.
“The audit process will take about a year’s time, so we plan to publish the final report next summer,” the ECA press office told The Brussels Times.
According to a preview by ECA, only 38 % of the migrants return to their country of origin or to the country from which they travelled to the EU. This average drops below 30 % for returns outside Europe. One of the reasons for the low returns is the difficulty of cooperating with migrants’ countries of origin. The actual returns are split more or less equally between voluntary and enforced returns.
EU has signed legally binding readmission agreements with 18 countries: Hong Kong, Macao, Sri Lanka, Albania, Russia, Ukraine, the Republic of North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Moldova, Pakistan, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Cape Verde and Belarus.
In addition to the already concluded agreements, negotiations on readmission agreements were launched in 2016 with Nigeria, Tunisia and Jordan, but have not progressed as needed. Negotiations with Morocco (launched in 2000) have been stalled since 2015, but are being progressively resumed since June 2019. In May 2011, the EU suspended all bilateral cooperation with the Syrian authorities.
There is no dedicated budget line for EU cooperation on readmission with third countries and a clear overview of EU funding is not available. Following a request by ECA, the Commission has identified 59 EU-funded projects linked to the readmission and reintegration of irregular migrants. The projects were funded under various instruments and, taken together, have a total value of €641 million.
In the audit, ECA will assess 20 projects in the ten countries, excluding Syria, with the highest numbers of non-returned irregular migrants in order to check whether the projects were relevant, the planned outputs were delivered and they led to the desired outcome as set out in the contractual documents.
Currently there is no common EU list of safe countries. Will the audit also look at whether the third countries are safe to return to?
“It’s the Commission’s responsibility to negotiate the legally binding readmission agreements between the EU and third countries, with a mandate from the Council and final consent from the European Parliament. At the operational level, the Commission organises “readmission expert meetings” on a monthly basis to receive feedback from practitioners in the Member States,” ECA replied.
According to a spokesperson of the Commission, return operations to third countries face difficulties during the coronavirus crisis but are still going on. The Commission has issued guidelines for returns during the crisis. ECA commented that it will take account of any factors related to the Covid-19 crisis.
The audit coincides with the Commission’s plan to present the New Pact on Asylum and Migration in September. The proposal is expected to deal with EU’s lack of a common asylum policy. Previous attempts to reach consensus on mandatory refugee quotas have failed.
Is the intention that the audit will feed into the Pact?
“How to deal best with migration is a pressing issue for the EU and its member states. Our role is to contribute to improving the EU’s financial management and promote transparency and accountability for the Union spending. In planning our audit work, we aim to be useful for the EU policy makers, in particular the European Parliament and Council,” ECA replied.
The Commission spokesperson confirmed at yesterday’s press conference (28 July) that the proposed Pact will address all aspects of migration, including the return issue. In a previous audit report last year, ECA wrote that EU should step up its action on asylum, relocation and return of migrants to better meet the objectives of its support.