Immediate action by the European Commission on non-harmonised visa regimes of third countries urgently needed
Interior minister Tatjana Bobnar attended the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg.
Ministers exchanged views on the overall state of the Schengen area, with a particular focus on external border management. The presidency provided the state of play on asylum and migration files. Over a working lunch, ministers discussed the recent trend on the Western Balkan migration route, which has seen a marked increase in migrant numbers, in particular due to the visa regimes of the Western Balkan countries. They also discussed the situation in Ukraine, the reception of refugees in the EU and the internal security implications of the war.
In the framework of the so-called Schengen Council, ministers discussed the future of the Schengen area. They addressed the priorities for the management of the European Union's external borders and for improving the functioning of the Schengen area as a whole. In this context, Minister Bobnar first raised the issue of internal border controls: “Controls at the internal borders must be time-limited. Keeping them in place for a long time by stringing together various reasons for their extension is not only unacceptable but constitutes a violation of the EU acquis, as was recognised in a judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU. Therefore, I call on the European Commission to do its job.” According to the Minister, controls should be used as a last resort, when all other measures have failed. She also highlighted the need for better protection of the EU's external borders, making full use of the Frontex mandate: “Its officers must be present where our external borders are under most pressure, including in North Macedonia, or between Bulgaria and Serbia, from where the busiest migration route in the Western Balkans continues to Hungary, and from there to Austria and other EU countries. The Commission must do its utmost to complete the negotiations on a status agreement with North Macedonia as soon as possible.”
Ministers also took note of the strategic risk analysis of the Schengen area prepared by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), which assesses the major challenges for border management until 2032. According to the analysis, migratory pressure is increasing due to the deterioration of the situation in third countries and also represents a political pressure on the EU in terms of an attempt to instrumentalise migration. Migrant smuggling remains a key area and we need to focus more efforts to prevent it, also taking into account the increasing digitalisation of the services used by smugglers. "In this respect, we are counting on the support of Europol, which needs to redeploy its resources on the Balkan route," said the Minister.
Ministers agreed that we must also address the issue of return of illegally staying third-country nationals and curb abuses of asylum procedures. Return must be one of the most important tools in the effective management and handling of migration, while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. "But to move towards the desired return rate, we need to strengthen our action in the external dimension," concluded Ms Bobnar.
In the context of the debate on migration, ministers took stock of the migration situation in the Western Balkans, paying particular attention to the problem of the non-alignment of the visa regimes of the countries in the region with the EU visa regime, in light of the high number of illegal border crossings by nationals of third countries that had not been part of the migration flows before (such as India, Burundi and Cuba). "The European Commission has to act as soon as possible, while the Western Balkan countries need to harmonise their visa regimes with the EU. Only by acting together can we stem the trend of these illegal border crossings", said the Minister, who last week wrote to the Commission to draw its attention to this issue. Slovenia has been warning about this problem for several months, which is why the discussion over lunch was very welcome.
The same topic was discussed yesterday by the interior ministers of Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia and the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson. They agreed on the need to intensify police cooperation, and international cooperation between all countries to prevent smuggling and organised crime. "These are measures for effective migration management, and Slovenia has been implementing them intensively," said the Minister.
Ministers also agreed on the need for disincentives and effective return. "We need to intensify our activities in the countries of origin and make them more concrete. The European Commission and the European External Action Service need to determine as soon as possible how we as the EU can actually help in Burundi and other countries of origin, especially in the areas of anti-smuggling, human rights and development aid," stated Minister Bobnar.