Several options and scenarios are currently being explored by the EU member states in order to (re)-examine the future of Schengen, writes Solon Ardittis.
These include: A status-quo, an option which is still favoured, at least publicly, by large member states such as France, Germany and Italy
A two-year Schengen suspension throughout the current border-free area (after six Schengen member states had already reinstated temporary border checks in 2015 and early 2016)
The exclusion from Schengen of selected member states, most notably Greece.
The establishment, as proposed by the Dutch authorities, of a mini-Schengen bloc consisting of Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and possibly France (a proposal which, to date, has been opposed by Belgium, France and Germany). To this list one should add Romania’s request to actually join the Schengen area in exchange of more solidarity towards the newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers, and Bulgaria’s and Croatia’s pending Schengen applications.
So, Schengen appears to be key to the future of EU immigration policy and, some would submit, to the future of the Union as a political project overall. Therefore, does any of the above scenarios have the potential to reduce irregular migration and terrorist threats in the foreseeable future? And while the latest biannual report on the functioning of the Schengen area, published in December 2015, has highlighted the staggering increase in the number of irregular border crossings detected in 2015 (1,553,614 compared with 813,044 during the full 2009-2014 period), is the reintroduction of internal borders within the current Schengen area such a potent response to the expanding migrant and terror crises in Europe?
According to those advocating a Schengen suspension, the massive arrivals at the EU’s external borders in 2015 and in the beginning of 2016 have resulted in significant secondary movements within the Schengen area, due largely to the failure of member states of first entry to register the applicants in line with the Dublin norms. The suggestion, therefore, is that the closure of internal borders would at least reduce the levels of such secondary movements in a number of member states in the future.
In addition to such an assumption having never been supported by any convincing evidence, it is also largely discounting the principle of intra-EU solidarity enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
The position of Greece is a case in point. The draft Schengen Evaluation Report that was issued last week concluded that Greece had seriously neglected its obligations by not identifying and registering irregular migrants effectively and by not checking travel documents systematically and against security databases such as SIS, Interpol and national systems. While these conclusions as such cannot be disputed, what most commentators reacting to this report have largely overlooked is the fact that, despite accounting for only 2% of the EU’s population, 3% of the EU’s territory and less than 1.5% of the EU’s GDP, Greece received in 2015 more than 80% of the over one million irregular migrants and asylum seekers who entered the EU by sea and land.
This is in addition to the fact that, as of 18 January 2016, only 82 migrants out of the 66,400 planned had been relocated from Greece under the EU Relocation Plan, and that many of the Frontex staff, boats and fingerprinting machines that had been promised to Greece to better police its borders have yet to arrive.
The case of Greece is largely emblematic of the current dichotomy between the EU’s growing initiatives in favour of a Union’s strategy in the field of immigration and security and the member states’ thriving distrust of the very concept of power and responsibility sharing in this sector. A case in point is the proposed revision of the Frontex’s mandate, most notably the proposed establishment of a European Border and Coast Guard.
While such initiatives have been long-awaited with a view to re-establishing some coherence in the EU’s policy approach to border management and security, and therefore to strengthening the Schengen area, the adoption of the new Frontex Regulation continues to face resistance from a number of member states that are simply not prepared to endorse such a transfer of sovereignty in such a sensitive area as border controls.
Similarly, the proposed amendment of the Schengen Border Code, which will ensure that travel documents of persons enjoying the right of free movement under Union law are checked systematically for internal security and public policy reasons against relevant databases, is still pending and exerting little pressure on the Schengen opponents’ resolution.
The EU has further been active in addressing the poor level of removals of irregular migrants ordered to leave the EU (the current rate is less than 40% on average), by tabling an EU action plan on return in September 2015 and by setting up a Frontex Return Office that will enable the Agency to scale up its assistance to the member states in this area (albeit with an allocated budget of only €15 million in 2016). Again, the effect of this initiative on the position of the anti-Schengen member states has been largely unobtrusive.
The issue of the financial implications of non-Schengen also appear to have been underestimated or ignored: a report issued by the French Prime Minister’s office earlier this week, estimated that the reintroduction of internal border controls within the EU would cost €110 billion per year.
Finally, and perhaps more importantly, if Schengen were to be abolished, would the Schengen Information System (SIS), which plays a vital role as a platform for exchanging information on terrorist and serious crime threats among member states have to follow suit? Such an implication would clearly expose the limitations of any initiative favouring a suspension or abolition of the Schengen system.
There is little doubt that the EU’s response to the migrant crisis to date has been largely piecemeal and reactive, and that a comprehensive and sustainable EU vision on the future of immigration and border management remains to be written. However, as the latest ‘State of Play’ on the European Agenda on Migration, published in January 2016, has re-emphasised, ‘no member state can effectively address migration alone. It is clear that we need a new, more European approach. This requires using all policies and tools at our disposal – combining internal and external policies to best effect.
All actors: member states, EU institutions, international organizations, civil society, local authorities and third countries need to work together to make a common European migration policy a reality’.
Solon Ardittis is director of Eurasylum, a European research and consulting organisation specialising in migration and asylum policy on behalf of national public authorities and EU institutions. He is also co-editor of Migration Policy Practice, a bimonthly journal published jointly with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
How the EU aims to boost consumer protection
Find out how the EU aims to boost consumer protection and adapt it to new challenges such as the green transition and the digital transformation. Society
As the economy becomes more global and digital, the EU is looking at new ways to protect consumers. During the May plenary, MEPs will debate the digital future of Europe. The report focuses on removing barriers to the functioning of the digital single market and improving the use of articial intelligence for consumers.
New consumer agenda
Parliament is also working on the new consumer agenda strategy for 2020-2025, focusing on five areas: green transition, digital transformation, effective enforcement of consumer rights, specific needs of certain consumer groups and international cooperation.
Making it easier to consume sustainably
In November 2020, MEPs adopted a report on a sustainable single market calling on the European Commission to establish a so-called right to repair to make repairs systematic, cost efficient and attractive. Members also called for labelling the lifespan of products as well as measures to promote a culture of reuse, including guarantees on pre-owned goods.
They also want measures against purposefully designing products in a way that makes them obsolete after a certain time and reiterated demands for a common charger.
The Commission is working on right to repair rules for electronics and legislation on the environmental footprint of products to enable consumers to compare.
The review of the Sale of Goods Directive, planned for 2022, will look into whether the current two-year legal guarantee could be extended for new and pre-owned goods.
In September 2020, the Commission launched the sustainable products initiative, under the new Circular Economy Action Plan. It aims to make products fit for a climate-neutral, resource-efficient and circular economy while reducing waste. It will also address the presence of harmful chemicals in products such as electronics and ICT equipment, textiles and furniture.
Making the digital transformation safe for consumers
The digital transformation is dramatically changing our lives, including how we shop. To help EU consumer rules catch up, in December 2020 the Commission proposed a new Digital Services Act, a set of rules to improve consumer safety across online platforms in the EU, including online marketplaces.
MEPs want consumers to be equally safe when shopping online or offline and want platforms such as eBay and Amazon to step up efforts to tackle traders selling fake or unsafe products and to stop fraudulent companies using their services.
MEPs also proposed rules to protect users from harmful and illegal content online while safeguarding freedom of speech and called for new rules on online advertising giving users more control.
Given the impact of artificial Intelligence, the EU is preparing rules to manage its opportunities and threats. Parliament has set up a special committee and emphasises the need for human centric legislation. The Parliament has proposed a civil liability regime for artificial intelligence that establishes who is responsible when AI systems cause harm or damage.
Strengthening the enforcement of consumer rights
EU countries are responsible for enforcing consumer rights, but the EU has a coordinating and supporting role. Among the rules it has put in place are the directive on a better enforcement and modernisation of consumer law and rules on collective redress.
Addressing specific consumer needs
Vulnerable consumers such as children, elderly people or people living with disabilities, as well as people in financial difficulties or consumers with limited access to the internet need specific safeguards. In the new consumer agenda, the Commission plans to focus on problems with internet accessibility, financially vulnerable consumers and products for children.
The Commission’s plans include more offline advice for consumers with no internet access as well as funding to improve the availability and quality of debt advice services for people in financial difficulties.
Because children are particularly vulnerable to harmful advertising, Parliament has approved stricter rules for audiovisual media services for audiovisual media services.
Guaranteeing the safety of products sold in the EU
Consumers often purchase goods manufactured outside the EU. According to the Commission, purchases from sellers outside the EU increased from 17% in 2014 to 27% in 2019 and the new consumer agenda highlights the need for international cooperation to ensure consumer protection. China was the largest supplier of goods to the EU in 2020, so the Commission will work on an action plan with them in 2021 to increase the safety of products sold online.
In November 2020, Parliament passed a resolution calling for greater efforts to ensure that all products sold in the EU are safe, whether manufactured within or outside the EU or are sold online or offline.
Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee is working on the Commission proposal for the new consumer agenda. MEPs are expected to vote on it in September.
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Coronavirus: Health Security Committee updates the common list of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests
The Health Security Committee (HSC) has agreed to update the common list of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests (RATs), including those whose results are mutually recognised by EU member states for public health measures. Following the update, 83 RATs are now included in the common list, of which the results of 35 tests are being mutually recognised. Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, said: “Rapid antigen tests play a crucial role to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Diagnostics are a central element for member states in their overall response to the pandemic. Having a wider list of recognised rapid antigen tests will also make it easier for citizens to benefit from Digital Green Certificates and to facilitate safe free movement inside the EU in the coming months.”
In addition, the Commission and the Joint Research Centre have agreed on a new procedure for updating the list of common and mutually recognised RATs in the future. From today onwards, RATs manufacturers will be able to submit data and information for certain tests that meet the criteria agreed by the Council on 21 January 2021. This includes only those rapid tests that are being carried out by a trained health professional or other trained operator and excludes rapid antigen self-tests. Moreover, as part of the new procedure, the HSC is setting up a technical working group of national experts to review the data submitted by countries and manufacturers and to propose updates to the HSC.
They will also work with the JRC and the ECDC on a common procedure for carrying out independent validation studies to assess the clinical performance of RATs. The updated common list of COVID-19 RATs is available here. Manufacturers can submit data on rapid antigen tests available on the market here. The Council Recommendation on a common framework for the use and validation of RATs and the mutual recognition of COVID-19 test results in the EU can be found here.
Mohsen Rezaee emerges as the West's man on the ground
As nuclear talks in Vienna stall, negotiators are keeping a close eye on Iran’s upcoming presidential elections, the outcome of which could be key to breaking the current deadlock, writes Yanis Radulović.
With a fourth round of talks set to resume in Vienna this week, pressure is mounting on high-ranking European negotiators to reach an accord that bridges the geopolitical chasm between Washington and Tehran and brings Iran back into compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
A historic non-proliferation agreement and widely regarded as one of the Obama administration’s premier foreign policy achievements, the JCPOA set out a framework to curtail Iran’s nuclear breakout time and established formal steps for capping the enrichment of fissile material, scheduling transparent atomic facility inspections, and dismantling excess centrifuge installations. In return for sustained compliance with this framework, the U.S. and other major world powers agreed to a gradual lifting of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.
When the US withdrew from this landmark agreement in 2018, the European co-signatories of Germany, France, and the UK stepped up to keep the deal alive. However, European relations in the region quickly became strained by the revival of Washington’s “maximum pressure campaign” on Iran, a campaign which aimed to strangle the Iranian economy via unilateral sanctions and escalatory retaliatory actions.
Unsurprisingly, Washington’s pivot to maximum pressure has placed major European powers in a foreign policy double bind. While the recent uptick in U.S.-Iran tensions has trended downwards since the election of President Joe Biden, his predecessor’s approach in the region has had a lasting effect upon Iranian goodwill towards multilateral agreements like the JCPOA.
For the European co-signatories, the nuclear talks in Vienna are embedded within a broader strategy of strategic détente and diplomatic reintegration between Europe and Iran. Beyond the obvious advantages of nuclear non-proliferation, Europe is also eyeing a future where Iran can step up as a fully-fledged, sanction-free actor on the international stage. Despite having an estimated 9 percent share of the world’s oil reserves, the sanction-sapped Iranian economy is woefully underdeveloped. Throw in the simulative potential of Iran’s frozen assets — estimated to be worth between $100 and $120 billion — and it’s easy to see why Europe views Iran as such a promising partner for foreign direct investment.
On a condition of anonymity, a senior official from the US State Department spoke with Reuters and shed some light on the likelihood of a deal being inked during the fourth round of talks, saying: "Is it possible that we'll see a mutual return to compliance in the next few weeks, or an understanding of a mutual compliance? It's possible yes.”
Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s top negotiator, is slightly more pessimistic at the chances of a deal in the immediate future. Speaking on state TV, Araqchi emphasized that Iran would not rush into a new deal without a stable framework of safeguards.
"When it will happen is unpredictable and a timeframe cannot be set. Iran is trying (for) it to happen as soon as possible, but we will not do anything in a rush," Araqchi said.
As formal talks stall, European negotiators are looking at Mohsen Rezaee, one of three front-runners in the upcoming Iranian presidential elections, to cut through the diplomatic red tape and promote mutually beneficial collaboration with the US and EU.
Unlike his fellow presidential candidates, Rezaee is not a lifelong politician. Nevertheless, with a career spanning the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to the Expediency Discernment Council, Rezaee is a seasoned diplomat and pragmatic negotiator. Perhaps Rezaee’s most impressive achievement is the fact that in all his years of civil, military, and political service, he has never once been subject to a corruption scandal or criminal probe.
While established politicians like Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif may be a more conventionally attractive partner with the West, there is growing conviction in Europe that Rezaee, a well-rounded, well-respected, and reliable candidate, is the man best suited to represent Iran and its position on international nuclear negotiations.
A proven leader who is unafraid to express his opinions, Rezaee has repeatedly shown that he is capable of adjusting his opinions and uniting coalitions. Despite his role as a representative of the “Revolution Generation”, Rezaee has made it clear that he is no radical. After years of civil service, Rezaee has broken ranks with many of the hardline views that are commonplace in the IRGC. In fact, in an interview with the Tehran Times, he went as far as to dismiss a nuclear arms race as unwise, remarking: “Political wisdom requires not to chase weapons that can destroy the entire humanity.”
With impediments to progress rearing at every turn in Vienna, it has become abundantly clear that the West needs a man on the ground in Iran. Mohsen Rezaee, and the emerging movement he represents, may be the key to breaking the deadlock in negotiations and bringing Iran back as a major player in the global economy.
The opinions expressed in the above article are thoseof the author alone, and do not reflect any opinion on the part of EU Reporter.
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