After two days of talks, Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) announced on Thursday (23 July) that a new coordination platform to tackle irregular migration would be established. The ministerial meeting had been organized by Austria with participants from 20 countries to discuss combating irregular migration along the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkan route.
The new platform will focus on coordinating cooperation in protecting the external borders, returning migrants without a right to asylum, fighting against smuggling and building faster and more efficient asylum procedures.
More concrete operations are set to be discussed at another meeting in the autumn.
“We must, on the one hand, always support each other, if we are talking about border security, for example, as did Austria in Greece. The second important aspect is the return of irregular migrants to countries of origin, easing the process. The third factor is the fight against organized crime and trafficking,” Nehammer said.
However, parties to the meeting stressed the new coordination structure should not become a new EU agency or institution.
Seated in Vienna, the new body would coordinate existing know-how about migration to identify “where blind spots are and what can be done about them”, Nehammer explained.
“This should not be seen as yet another administrative structure but rather as a flexible operational tool that will align priorities, needs and actions,” Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said.
“Instead of adding yet another layer we’ll bring together all the existing layers into more effective systems,” he added.
The European Commission’s long-awaited and long-delayed pact on migration is due to be presented after summer break, under the leadership of the German EU Presidency which has prioritised seeking agreement on a fairer spread of asylum seekers across EU members.
In 2016 the Commission faced severe resistance from countries unwilling to take on migrants arriving in southern Europe, in particular from Eastern European members states Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
According to Frontex, the eastern Mediterranean is the most “active” migration route to Europe.
The numbers along the so-called Balkan route, which was also the focus during the 2015-16 crisis, rose by around 50% in the first half of 2020.