CES provides expert advice on migration during European Parliament hearing

On 2 and 3 October 2013, prominent policy-makers from the European Parliament, Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia alongside experts from the European Commission, Frontex, diplomats and analysts discussed the EU policy towards the Eastern Neighbourhood from the perspective of mobility and migration management. It is a multifaceted topic where visa liberalisation and migration management interact with factors such as democratisation reforms, trade agreements, geopolitical considerations and frozen conflicts.

The first day of this expert hearing focused on the lessons with visa liberalisation processes of the Western Balkans and the link between visa liberalisation and readmission agreements for the countries of the Eastern Partnership (EaP). Jacek Protasiewicz MEP, Vice-President of the European Parliament, who hosted the hearing, outlined that the process of visa facilitation should make people to people contact easier with the ultimate objective being visa-free travel. However, the fears of EU citizens regarding any negative effects of this process need to be addressed. Following recent visa liberalisation with the Western Balkans some EU countries experienced increase in asylum applications.

In his keynote speech, Elmar Brok MEP, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, expressed the need of a strategic approach of the EU which includes both measures allowing for circular migration and responding to the pressure which Russia exerts on the countries.
During the panels on the following day the discussants made an assessment of the state of play in visa dialogues with EaP countries and agreed that the process towards liberalisation should continue as the mutual benefits of mobility exceed the negatives. Nevertheless, all further steps on liberalisation of visas should be merit-based – measuring individual progress and achievements by the Eastern partners.

CES’s Vít Novotný emphasised the fact that democracy in Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Belarus is not advancing in the right direction while at the same time citizens of those countries have limited contact to the EU. That is why a stronger involvement of the EU is needed with a focus on civil society and travel opportunities. Mr Novotný expressed his confidence that the partnership on which EaP countries have embarked with the EU will provide additional merits alongside with visa facilitation. It is a process involving durable reforms in the area of justice, security and democratisation. He also pointed out some concrete steps which the EU should take when treating migrants from the Eastern neighbourhood – improving consular services abroad and better management of applications from state immigration agencies. Integrating migrants from those countries is central to preventing abuses on the labour market and breaches of the migrants’ social rights.

The questions and answer session which followed shed some light on the various expectations towards the upcoming summit in Vilnius. The Summit will be held on the 28-29 November 2013 and will determine not only the objectives for the next two years but also the future character of EaP policy. It is a summit charged with many expectations and its outcomes are hardly predictable, especially since Armenia expressed its interest to join a customs union with Russia. The participants agreed that EU should approach the Summit positively, keeping possibilities open. However, all countries should be judged on their ability to live up to the commitments they have made regarding Association Agreements with the EU.