EU Pilot Burden Sharing Project

EU pilot burden sharing project
Some member states oppose 'compulsory' burden sharing

Ivan Camilleri, Brussels
The Malta Times
Friday, 5th June 2009

In an unprecedented move, the EU yesterday launched a pilot burden-sharing project tailor made to Malta's needs.

EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot announced the pilot project following an EU Council meeting of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in Luxembourg. At the meeting, the European Commission presented member states with a set of urgent proposals aimed at providing added help to overburdened member states such as Malta and Italy.

“We have today discussed thoroughly the problems Malta and Italy are facing with illegal immigration and the Council of Ministers endorsed my proposal to set up for the first time an intra-community voluntary burden-sharing pilot project specifically for Malta. Through this pilot project, refugees and other persons with humanitarian protection currently in Malta will have the opportunity to move to other EU member states and resettle there,” Mr Barrot said.

Although no specific details on how the burden-sharing mechanism will work were given yesterday, EU sources said this would be similar to a bilateral agreement in place between Malta and the US.

The US takes a number of refugees from Malta and resettles them in its territory.

The EU Executive is now expected to draw up guidelines for the pilot project with the intention of putting it in motion as from this summer.

Mr Barrot said last week that, although the burden-sharing mechanism would remain voluntary, as the EU could not force member states to take asylum seekers, it was the intention of the Commission to ask member states to pledge how many migrants they could take from Malta.

“We are showing that solidarity is not just words but action,” he said. “This is a very important step and a first for the EU in the area.”

Meanwhile, a set of urgent proposals submitted by Mr Barrot to help southern EU member states tackle illegal immigration were discussed by EU Home Affairs Ministers and have now been put on the agenda of the EU Foreign Affairs Ministers' meeting to be held in Brussels next week.

The proposals, which were also drawn up with Malta in mind, include concrete measures to start discussions with Libya on the possibility of opening up joint EU-UNHCR reception offices able to assess asylum applications, increased funding for over-burdened member states, reinforcement of Frontex patrol missions and a permanent burden-sharing system.

Mr Barrot said that, although his proposals were received positively by all member states, certain countries were still opposing “compulsory” burden sharing and this would make it impossible for the EU to have as from now a “compulsory” system.

According to EU treaty rules, member states have to agree unanimously in this area in order to implement measures. Mr Barrot however said he was confident that EU Foreign Ministers would give their green light to his proposals and announced that he would soon be going to Libya together with UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres for talks on cooperation on the illegal immigration issue.