By CHRIS DALBY
BRUSSELS – With the migration crisis still showing no signs of abating, European Commission proposals to improve refugee integration came under withering criticism at a recent European Policy Centre (EPC) Policy Dialogue. The event focused on a report by the Brussels-based Migration Policy Group (MPG) that said the Commission’s new proposals “largely represent a missed opportunity and a potential major risk for integration.”
First announced on 13 July 2013, the Commission’s proposals seek to move the EU’s Common European Asylum System (CEAS) towards a fully efficient, fair and humane asylum policy. MPG’s report said the “minor improvements” on reception and qualification standards would only “marginally improve the situation on the ground in most Member States”. Moreover, it argues that several of the recast proposals would “delay and undermine the integration process for asylum-seekers and BIPs” [beneficiaries of international protection] by reducing support for potentially large numbers of them, and for favourable conditions for integration.
The proposals aim to reform the EU’s Reception Conditions Directive (RCD) and to replace its Qualification Directive with a regulation. The RCD’s reforms would:
* further harmonise reception conditions across the EU
* reduce incentives for secondary movements
* increase applicants’ self-reliance and integration prospects
Speaking at the 20 October EPC event, Judit Tanczos, legal policy analyst for MPG, said the most important change to the RCD “is the possibility for earlier access to the labour market, which is an important modification,” but added that on the ground “they will not make a major change. In fact, most of the member states offer labour market access to asylum seekers at six months, or even earlier than six months.”
For Tanczos, the biggest missed opportunity was the lack of guaranteed integration support for asylum seekers in all member states. “From the proposal it is clear that member states can make integration measures obligatory, but we find nowhere that this obligatory integration measure has to be accompanied, or how member states are obliged to make these measures accessible,” she said.
The MPG report notes that while asylum-seekers can now be sanctioned for failing to comply with compulsory integration measures, member states are not required to support these integration measures for asylum-seekers. It also asserts that the proposed reception directive’s reform does not clarify that compulsory integration measures need to be accessible, affordable and individualised, in compliance with EU Court of Justice case-law.
Turning to the risks for integration, the report states that the proposal’s new sanction system “risks to delay and categorically exclude” potentially large numbers of asylum-seekers from receiving integration support based on reasons “unrelated to their individual integration needs or actions in the country”.
As for the new Qualification Regulation, it had its first article-by-article reading by the Council on 28 October. Its five objectives are to promote harmonise common criteria for recognition; create more convergence on asylum decisions and recognition rates across the EU; ensure that protection is granted only for as long as the grounds for protection or serious harm persist, without affecting a person’s integration prospects; address the secondary movements of BIPs; and further harmonise the rights of BIPs.
The regulation has its faults, however. Tanczos singled out the lack of clarity regarding residence dispersal systems and the regulation of their use. “We know that it is extremely difficult to implement a well-functioning residence dispersal system. Given the fact that this is a regulation, there should be more guidance for the member states to implement these systems. Otherwise we are actually risking an even bigger dysfunction in the common European asylum system.”
Concerning the risks for integration, Tanczos pointed to residence permits. Changing the current Qualification Directive to a mandatory EU regulation would, paradoxically, prevent member states from implementing more favourable rules for beneficiaries, in her view.
“Currently the average length of a residence permit refugees are receiving [in the member states] is five years, and for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection it is somewhere between two or three”, she said. “From now on refugees could receive a three-year residence permit, while the one-plus-two system will remain for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection”.
Its findings were supported by a majority of the other panelists during the debate, including the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, whose secretary general echoed similar concerns. The Commission’s representative at the event was unable to sufficiently address their remarks or explain why the two proposals were necessary when many member states on their own accord seem to be implementing more favourable rules for beneficiaries.
Of special note, the MPG report states that “national governments and civil society agreed that better implementation of the current Reception and Qualification Directives would have greater effects on integration, without jeopardising the effectiveness of other proposed reforms to the CEAS.”
This risk in all this, of course, would be a “race to the bottom” where the member states demand more integration but don’t effectively support their BIPs, thus undercutting integration in the first place.