FECL 30 (December 1994/January 1995):

EU JUSTICE AND HOME AFFAIRS COUNCIL ENDS IN DISCORD

 

At its meeting on 30 November - 1 December in Brussels, the Justice and Home Affairs Council failed to agree on key issues such as Europol and the further harmonisation of asylum policies. This outcome represents a major setback for the German presidency. Two weeks later, at the European Council in Essen, a visibly disappointed Chancellor Kohl admitted that the Europol Convention was unlikely to be signed by the first half of 1995.

 

No to German dream of a European FBI

Once again, the old German plans for a Europol with own executive powers and a wide field of action, including "organised crime" in the broadest sense of the term (see FECL No.29, p.1) foundered owing to obstinate resistance, mainly from Britain and France. The French Interior Minister, Charles Pasqua, did not even bother to appear at the meeting which, he was well aware, represented the last chance for the Germans to achieve agreement on a Europol convention under their presidency.

Charles Pasqua's opposition is obviously not due to scruples about more policing, but to his fear that a European police as intended by Germany could undermine national sovereignty in the field of public order and internal security.

Britain has expressed similar concerns and is, by principle, opposed to any role for EU bodies in this field.

Both France and Britain opposed the German demand for an unrestricted communication of sensitive national data to Europol. The French representatives are, however, believed to have presented a compromise proposal: Each member state should have the opportunity to check all data collected by Europol (and thereby also the respect of data protection) at every stage. But the British Home Secretary, Michael Howard, is said to have rejected such checks, arguing that, the more national bodies with access to the data, the greater the risk of leaks.

There has also been opposition to signing a Europol convention in its present form in the Netherlands. It is believed that the Dutch Parliament will not empower its Minister to approve any convention not providing for satisfactory parliamentary and judicial control.

 

Asylum policies

In a confidential preparatory paper to the Council, the German Interior Ministry had made a number of proposals all aiming at a further restriction of the rights of asylum seekers on the lowest common European denominator. Most of the proposals were inspired by restrictive practices already implemented in Germany under its new asylum law. Inter alia, the paper included the following recommendations:

- a lowering of the minimum criteria of protection that must be met by a country in order to be deemed a "safe third country". The return of asylum seekers shall be allowed even to third countries which guarantee neither the right to stay nor access to a fair asylum procedure. This would result in "chain deportations" ending in the asylum seeker's country of persecution;

- the abolition of the rule whereby an asylum rejection or a deportation order can be suspended by lodging an appeal against the decision. Asylum seekers would still have a right to appeal, but they would have to await the decision outside the country. Even in the unlikely event of a favourable decision, in many cases it would come too late for the person concerned. Austria was the first country to introduce such a regulation in 1991 (see FECL No.24, p.8; No.3, p.3).

On the eve of the Brussels Council, its president, Interior Minister Kanther, was optimistic about a possible agreement at least on the asylum issue. The interior ministers did actually approve minor issues such as Recommendations concerning a framework text of a readmission agreement between an EU-member state and a third country, and on the introduction by January 1995 of a standard type of travel document to be used by Member States when expelling undocumented persons. But the other proposed restrictions of the right of asylum concerning asylum determination procedures, facilitated deportations and a harmonised interpretation of the term "refugee" in the Geneva Convention were not approved. This was not due to any major disagreement among the ministers, but merely to Spanish obstructiveness over a point of detail. In an attempt to prevent EU countries from offering sanctuary to Basque separatists, Spain wants nationals from EU member states to be automatically forbidden to apply for asylum in another EU member state. Spain, engaged in a lengthy quarrel with Belgium since the Belgian Refugee Board agreed to examine the asylum application of two Basques, has blocked EU cooperation on asylum ever since.

 

Secrecy as usual

Once again, the meeting of the EU Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs was characterised by strict secrecy. Thus, neither the German preparatory documents for the meeting nor the complete agenda of the meeting were communicated to the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs. As for questions officially addressed to the presidency by news agencies and accredited press correspondents - they were simply not answered.

 

Sources: Junge Welt, 30.11.94, 3.12.94; Neues Deutschland, 1.12.94; Migration News Sheet December 1994, No.141/94-12, our sources.