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EU interior ministers on returning migrants and fighting organised crime in the digital era

The Minister of Public Administration in the capacity of Minister of the Interior, Sanja Ajanović Hovnik, is attending the informal meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in Stockholm.
Group photo

Group photo | Author European Union

The morning part of the meeting, under the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU, focused on migration management, with an emphasis on cooperation with third countries and, in particular, on more effective return of migrants who are not entitled to stay in the EU.

In our view, the effective return of persons not authorised to stay in the EU, with full respect of human rights, and closer cooperation with partner third countries on readmission are an important part of a comprehensive and effective EU migration policy. This is also crucial to ensure the credibility of EU policies on international protection and legal migration. In this context, we would like to emphasise that return must be sustainable and, above all, supported by a reintegration programme and appropriate development and economic assistance that both addresses and mitigates the root causes of migration.

"We welcome the Operational Strategy for more effective returns presented by the European Commission two days ago," said Minister Ajanović Hovnik, adding that "its implementation in practice is essential and it will be important to define concrete measures and activities as soon as possible".

More efforts are needed to implement the readmission agreements concluded with third countries and, in particular, to strengthen action in the external dimension, which can also be facilitated by new and extended mandates of EU agencies, which is why we encourage cooperation between partner countries and these agencies. One of the main reasons for the low effective return rate at EU level (29% in 2019, down further due to the pandemic in 2020 and 21% in 2021) is precisely the lack of cooperation of third countries in readmission. "We need to send a clear signal to countries that do not cooperate in readmission that their failure to observe their international legal obligation to take back their own nationals is unacceptable," the Minister stressed, adding that the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) must take immediate action.

Most ministers considered returns to be the only effective tool in the fight against irregular migration. At the same time, while member states agreed that the leverage provided by Article 25a of the Visa Code was clearly an effective tool, they also believed its use should be less complicated and quicker. Several Member States, including Slovenia, were of the opinion that we ought to be more assertive and ought to also apply other tools when a third country fails to comply with its international obligations and refuses to take back its own nationals. In this case, in addition to the leverage of the Visa Code, we should also make use of the leverage of trade policy, customs policy, financial instruments, development assistance and so on. The discussion also showed that an effective return policy should promote legal channels, as the EU is a long-lived society in need of labour.

"Without effective return, we will not lay the foundations for an effective migration policy and we will not be able to have a serious and frank debate on solidarity. Moreover, low return rates open up a grey area for increased secondary movements and the operation of smuggling rings," the Minister added.

 Interior Ministers of Slovenia and Italy Sanja Ajanović Hovnik and Matteo Piantedosi

Interior Ministers of Slovenia and Italy Sanja Ajanović Hovnik and Matteo Piantedosi | Author Ministry of the Interior

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On the sidelines of the meeting, the Minister met with her Italian counterpart, Matteo Piantedosi, to discuss the migration situation in the country and the Western Balkan region. They agreed that cooperation between the police forces of the two countries was very good in all areas, which is particularly evident in the implementation of mixed patrols on the Slovenian-Italian border. To further improve the exchange of information between the two countries, Slovenia will deploy a police attaché in Rome as of 1 February this year.

The two Ministers also discussed the return of migrants caught by the police crossing the border illegally. The return between Italy and Slovenia is carried out on the basis of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the Government of the Italian Republic on the Readmission of Persons at the State Border. The Ministers noted that the agreement was being implemented and agreed that experts from the ministries and police forces of both countries would meet shortly to agree on further cooperation. They also agreed that the two countries should work closely together on migration management, and that Croatia, which currently protects the EU external border and the Schengen external border, should also be invited to participate.

The afternoon session will focus on the fight against organised crime in the digital era. With the rapid development of information and telecommunication technologies, new technologies and devices are emerging, and with them new ways of committing crime. All authorities responsible for the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of crime must constantly adapt to rapid technological progress and the new forms of crime that it makes possible. This can best be achieved through close international cooperation based on the secure and rapid exchange of information, know-how, investigative tactics and methods, which can contribute to the successful detection and prosecution of computer and cybercrime offences. With anonymity technologies, strong data encryption algorithms and electronic evidence and perpetrators dispersed internationally, we believe that different approaches will be needed to investigate this type of crime. Uniform and effective legislation in this area needs to be adopted as far as possible, both within the EU and with third countries, and we need faster and more effective tools and procedures for international cooperation in investigating cybercrime. There is also a need to make better use of specialised techniques, training and equipment in the prevention and detection of these crimes, and to improve the capacity of staff working in the fight against cybercrime.