Tuomo Kurri: Migration debate during Finland’s Presidency has been lively and forward-looking
Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union is drawing to a close. Our Presidency coincided with a challenging transition period for the European Parliament and European Commission. However, this actually turned out to be beneficial for discussing migration and asylum policy. The interim period provided a window of opportunity for debate ahead of the adoption of new legislative proposals by the new Commission next year.
The future-oriented discussions conducted by the EU member states during the Presidency will provide a valuable foundation for the work of both the Council and the Commission in the legislative cycle now starting.
A comprehensive approach to migration
During Finland’s Presidency, policies on migration and asylum have been discussed comprehensively in a forward-looking spirit well-suited to the institutional transition. Our strategic discussion papers have received praise, not only on details but also on their broader perspective and their role in articulating the debate. Finland has emphasised a knowledge-based, forward-looking migration policy. Our aim has been to stimulate discussion on how to make better use of the information obtained to prepare a future-oriented policy.
From the beginning of its Presidency, Finland has highlighted the need to promote an intercontinental dialogue on common challenges and opportunities related to migration. Throughout this period, we have emphasised the importance of genuine partnerships with third countries, those of Africa in particular. The importance of these partnerships has also been reflected in the debate on legal migration.
All of the key migration routes have been examined comprehensively over the past six months, from the countries of origin via transit countries all the way to Europe’s borders. Our Presidency has raised issues related to the root causes of migration, changing routes and factors likely to affect migration in the future.
More concrete cooperation with countries of origin and transit
The member states agree on the need to intensify the EU’s cooperation with third countries on return issues. Before Finland’s Presidency, there had been little concrete discussion of the instruments of this cooperation, except regarding the use of visa policy. Our Presidency has tied up the promotion of cooperation in return management to the idea of comprehensive partnerships between EU and non-EU countries. From this perspective, we have launched a discussion on the links between different policy sectors, providing concrete examples of how to make use of incentives.
Finland’s Presidency has sought to facilitate the smooth introduction of the incentive mechanism integrated into the amended Visa Code due to enter into force in February 2020. The new mechanism will be used to assess, at least once a year, how well cooperation on return is working. Based on this assessment, visa restrictions or concessions may be proposed for specific non-EU countries. Finland’s Presidency has also been the first to launch a discussion on the links between migration and trade policy. Our approach to this challenging subject was considered constructive and balanced.
Reintegration of returnees has also been a key theme of Finland’s Presidency. In the discussions, Finland has pointed out the importance not only of supporting individual returnees, but of strengthening the capacity of countries of origin to receive them. These measures must be coordinated, particularly with the actors involved in development cooperation.
Reform of the Common Asylum System
From the beginning of our Presidency, it was clear that there was no point trying to push through the current legislative proposals on asylum policy as such – after all, the new Commission is expected to table new initiatives when relaunching the reform of the asylum system. It was more useful to take some distance from the actual legislative texts, adopting instead a pragmatic, theme-based approach to the key reform issues.
Thus, in the course of working party discussions, member states shared information on practices related to the screening of asylum applications. They also discussed the practical links between asylum and return procedures, an issue that the new Commission is also expected to address. The main point was to explore practices in the member states and to promote understanding of the rationale behind different perspectives. Both the member states and the Commission considered this exchange of information useful.
The coming year will be marked by the Presidencies of Croatia and Germany, and proposals from the new Commission. It will be interesting to see the long-deadlocked reform of the asylum system start moving again. There are no two ways about it: we have to move forward. Responsibility must be shared and harmonisation must continue for the system to function well in all circumstances.
The member states all agree that asylum procedures need to be effective. Achieving this goal will require considerable joint efforts. In the future, the European Asylum Support Office (or as proposed, a fully-fledged European Asylum Agency) will also need to play a strong role in coordinating operations.