FECL 38 (October 1995):
The EU runs two so-called "clearing houses" in the field of immigration and asylum: CIREA (Centre for Information, Discussion and Exchange on Asylum, established in June 1992) and CIREFI.
The CIREFI was established by the then 12 Ministers responsible for immigration at their London meeting in late 1992 (see FECL No.11: "London Conference on closer coordination of Immigration and Justice policies within the EC", "The meeting of the twelve Ministers of Immigration", "'Deregulation' of legal and institutional frameworks - a handy tool for shifting power from legislative to executive bodies") and immediately took up work. The EP was not consulted.
The Council justified these proceedings by describing CIREFI as no more than an informal structure - just a label without any definite legal personality - which brings together national experts, without a set calendar, to exchange information and views.
The tasks of CIREFI fall into the following categories: statistical work; the gathering of data, the analysis of legal and illegal immigration; analyses relating to policing measures (forged documents, illegal immigration etc.).
According to the aforementioned Conclusion adopted by the JHA Council on 30 November 1994, the tasks of CIREFI are significantly extended to cover the collation of statistical information to assist member states in the prevention b> of illegal immigration and unlawful residence, combating illegal immigration networks and immigration crime in general, and improving deportation and repatriation practices and instruments, particularly with regard to modes of transport. It appears from the text that CIREFI will consist of a Standing Conference of national experts with logistical back-up from the General Secretariat of the Council and the national central units of the member states.
The EP resolution points out that CIREFI is thus "designed as a basic instrument for controlling illegal immigration", and that its activities will therefore have "legislative implications under Title VI [Justice and Home Affairs] of the TEU [Maastricht treaty]".
The EP points out that it was not consulted on the Conclusion prior to its adoption by the Council, but only "informed" later. This, the EP says, is a breach of Article K.6 of the TEU which states that the Presidency of the Council shall consult the parliament on "the principal aspects of activities" in the area of Justice and Home Affairs cooperation.
The EP's rapporteur, Ms Hedy d'Ancona, stresses that "in spite of the ambiguous wording of the text in question", the CIREFI's activities will produce legal effects. "Consequently, Parliament must in any case be consulted both on matters which come under the first pillar and those which come under the third pillar". The rapporteur notes that there is "no provision in any article of the Treaties for a "Conclusion of the Council" with a legislative scope. This is a clear case of Council's political and legislative roles becoming mixed up. Although it is customary for political decisions to take the form of Conclusions, it is unacceptable for this practical system to be used to shield decisions with legislative implications. It must be stressed that this lack of rigour in the formulation of Council acts constitutes an infringement of the principle of legal certainty, if nothing else".
Referring to the secrecy surrounding CIREFI activities the EP resolution notes that "research into immigration may be useful, but should not be conducted in conditions of secrecy" and warns against over-lapping of CIREFI activities in the field of data collection with activities already assigned to bodies such as the European Communities' Statistical Office, the UNHCR, the planned European Information System, and Europol.
Sources: EP, Committee on Civil Liberties and Internal Affairs: Report on the draft Council conclusions on the organisation and development of CIREFI (C4-0008/95) A4-0186/95, 20.6.95, Rapp: Ms Hedy d'Ancona; EP resolution A4-0186/95 PE193.734, adopted 22.9.95.