Select Committee on European Scrutiny Fifteenth Report




COM(01) 710

Commission Communication on the common asylum policy, introducing an open co-ordination method.

Legal base:
Document originated:28 November 2001
Forwarded to the Council:30 November 2001
Deposited in Parliament:3 January 2002
Department:Home Office
Basis of consideration:EM of 7 January 2002
Previous Committee Report:None
To be discussed in Council:Date not set
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared

The document

  10.1  This Communication is both a first report on the application of the Commission Communication, Towards a common asylum procedure and a uniform status, valid throughout the Union, for persons granted asylum[32], and a proposal that the open method of co-ordination be applied to asylum policy.

Progress to date

  10.2  The first part of the Communication notes that all the proposals for the first phase of the asylum legislative programme have now been framed. It summarises the measures and the progress made on them to date. It also lists a number of flanking measures and other related initiatives.

  10.3  The Communication also discusses other issues: the relationship between international protection obligations and internal security; progress made on the common analysis and improved exchange of statistics on asylum and migration; the external dimension of asylum policy.

  10.4  The final section of the Communication contains a number of recommendations. Several call on Member States for speedier action and greater effort to give effect to measures and implement them.

The open method of co-ordination

  10.5  The most significant part of the document is the section about the open method of co-ordination. This method (already used in relation to the Employment Strategy and the EU Social Policy Agenda and also proposed for the Community immigration policy[33]) involves an annual cycle of adoption of guidelines by the Council, the development of National Action Plans by Member States, and the drafting of a synthesis report evaluating the Plans against the guidelines. The intention is for Member States to learn how to cope with common challenges in a particular policy field in a way which promotes co-ordination while respecting national diversity. It is a decentralised approach in line with the principle of subsidiarity. The Communication advocates applying this method to asylum policy and puts forward guidelines, proposed instruments and recommendations for its operation.

  10.6  The Communication suggests five guidelines covering the following broad areas: knowledge of migratory movements; developing an efficient and inclusive asylum system; returns of unsuccessful asylum applicants; relations with third countries; integration of those granted asylum. Following consultation, the Commission may present these as the basis of a formal proposal.

  10.7  In line with the open method of co-ordination, Member States would be required to draw up National Action Plans annually. These would both review the previous year's actions to implement the guidelines and put forward proposals for future work.

The Government's view

  10.8  In her Explanatory Memorandum, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Angela Eagle) welcomes the Communication which, she considers, adds impetus to the progress being made in asylum policy. She sees significant potential benefits for the UK in the harmonisation of European asylum systems, telling us:

"In particular, the harmonisation process should reduce the secondary migration of asylum seekers, or 'asylum shopping', between Member States. This is particularly relevant for the UK, since many of our asylum seekers arrive via at least one other European country rather than directly from their country of origin."

  10.9  The Minister considers that the open method of co-ordination will complement the legislative programme, although it cannot replace it. She continues:

"The arguments and guidelines set out by the Communication broadly reflect much of the Government's current thinking. It considers that a multi-dimensional international approach that seeks to manage all stages of the asylum trail is the best way to control migration flows and share the burden that asylum applicants can pose for the receiving State. Forming partnerships with countries of origin and transit, understanding migration flows, effective and fair consideration of asylum applications and integrating successful asylum applicants, whilst returning unsuccessful ones, are all aspects of the same phenomena. As such the government considers that it is logical to link them together as part of a broad strategy of control."

  10.10  The Minister lists some details of the proposal on which the Government will seek clarification, as follows:

"—  Ensuring that appropriate safeguards exist to exclude terrorists and other undeserving cases from the asylum system;

  • The timing and content of National Action Plans;

  • How prescriptive the guidelines need to be and when they are first likely to be adopted;

  • The nature and extent of the role that the Commission will play, with a view to ensuring that the principle of subsidiarity is correctly interpreted; and

  • The exact nature of the relationship between the ongoing legislative programme and the open co-ordination method."


  10.11  This is rather a portmanteau Communication, containing a number of items which do not fit together in a very coherent way. While the summary of progress is presented factually, the Commission's disappointment with the slow timescale shines through the recommendations — and is reflected in the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.

  10.12  We record elsewhere in this Report the Minister's welcome for the open method of co-ordination in relation to immigration policy.[34] She is equally positive about the application of the method to asylum policy, although we note her concern to emphasise that it cannot replace the legislation programme in this area.

  10.13  We shall, of course, wish to scrutinise any formal proposal for guidelines that the Commission puts forward. Meanwhile, we clear the document.

32  (21947) 13119/00; see HC 28-viii (2000-01), paragraph 3 (14 March 2001). Back

33  (22612) 11007/01; see paragraph 8 above. Back

34  Ibid. Back

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Prepared 11 February 2002