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Home Affairs Ministers on the situation in the Schengen area and asylum and migration

The Justice and Home Affairs Council spent the morning part of the session discussing the situation in the Schengen area.

In view of the fact that the current one-year Schengen cycle will come to an end in March 2023, the Presidency reported on the state of play regarding the implementation of the priorities adopted by the ministers last December with a view to strengthening the Schengen area. These priorities are strengthening the management of the EU's external borders, implementing the new information architecture and the project for the interconnection of information systems (the interoperability project) and strengthening police cooperation. It is also necessary to ensure that internal border controls are a matter of last resort, maintained for a limited period of time and accompanied, where necessary, by compensatory measures.

In the debate, the Permanent Representative to the EU, Ambassador Iztok Jarc, who represented Slovenia at today’s meeting, referred to the European Commission's report that we are facing internal border controls for the eighth year in a row. He stressed that this was unjustified, disproportionate and unlawful. "These controls do not serve their purpose, as we see in practice, and the people most affected are the border population, commuters and tourists. In other words, our citizens," the Ambassador said, adding that these controls "have a crippling effect on life along the border, they obstruct traffic and have an adverse effect on the economy". He called on the European Commission, as guardian of the EU treaties, to take immediate action, also on behalf of the other countries concerned.

Ambassador Jarc added that Slovenia was in regular contact with the Schengen coordinator and also with neighbouring Austria, with which we have recently strengthened police cooperation along the entire border. He also expressed his expectation that all these activities would lead to the desired result, i.e. the final lifting of controls at the internal border.

Discussions in the format of the Schengen Council focused in particular on the future of visa policy. The EU's common visa policy is an integral part of the Schengen acquis and one of the most important tools for tackling security risks and irregular migration in the Schengen area. It is also becoming an increasingly important element of the common foreign policy as a powerful lever with the potential to promote reforms. The ministers' discussion focused on how to make the EU's visa policy more strategic and responsive. The focus was on the review of the mechanism for the temporary suspension of visa exemptions and the way in which third countries with visa exemptions are regularly monitored.

"A well-functioning visa policy of the European Union and its consistent implementation is a fundamental condition for the good functioning of the Schengen area," said Ambassador Jarc. Last year, a significant percentage of unfounded applications for international protection were made by nationals of countries that are exempt from the visa requirement. "We therefore urgently need clearer criteria and, above all, the possibility of rapid detention in cases of abuse," emphasized Jarc, noting that visa policy is a powerful instrument of EU foreign policy.

The afternoon session was marked by a debate on the internal and external dimensions of asylum and migration. Slovenia supports a balanced approach that takes into account the specific features of each migration route and stresses the importance of consistent implementation of the Action Plans. Our actions must not create pull factors, which is also important in order to prevent the loss of life along the migration routes, as we have seen in recent weeks.

For the implementation of the Action Plans to be successful, no decisions should be taken without involving our partners and taking into account the real needs of the Western Balkans region, where Slovenia has been active for several years, focusing on the prevention of one of the most serious forms of crime - human smuggling - as a priority within the Brdo process, together with the countries of the region. At the same time, we are trying to make an important contribution to a more effective return of migrants who are not eligible for international protection from the region. The EU should, however, focus on preventive information campaigns to raise awareness in the countries of origin about the risks of irregular migration and on counselling for those stranded along the way.

In the debate on the internal aspects of asylum and migration and the implementation of the Dublin Plan, the Minister supported the prevention of secondary movements and abuse of asylum systems, and strict implementation of the Dublin rules that is certainly one of the most effective tools.

Over a working lunch, ministers exchanged views on the state of play of the dialogue with Ukraine on internal security and cooperation in the field of justice and home affairs and the common security and defence policy.