EU ministers of the interior have unanimously concluded that Croatia has fulfilled the necessary conditions for the application of all parts of the Schengen acquis.
The holder of the current Presidency of the Home Affairs Council of the EU, the Slovenian Minister of the Interior Aleš Hojs said on the occasion: "The unanimous support witnessed today is an important achievement by the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU in the field of home affairs. During our Presidency, our team has been working intensely on harmonising the position of the Council, which today gave its approval for Croatia, our neighbouring and partner country, to join the Schengen Area." The decision is the first formal step towards the Council’s final decision on the enlargement of the Schengen Area.
At the last regular Home Affairs Council meeting to be chaired by Minister Hojs, the ministers held a debate on migration on the external EU border with Belarus, addressing hybrid threats and migrant smuggling. The EU has been facing increased migration flows at the external border for several years. The phenomenon recently reached a new level with the hybrid attack carried out by the Belarus regime and the misuse of migrants for political purposes. Other migration challenges at the external borders should not be overshadowed, in particular in the Mediterranean. "Thanks to concerted EU efforts, the flows of migrants from Belarus have dropped. However, pressure on the EU border remains high. Another phenomenon requiring our response is the constant increase of unauthorised movements, also known as secondary movements, within the EU," Minister Hojs stated.
The debate uncovered the variety of migration situations in the EU today. The ministers highlighted that they need to be dealt with equally and called for a more strategic and decisive approach on the external dimension, where EU should develop strong partnerships with third countries thus preventing departures from third countries of origin. "Information campaigns and activities on the social networks are important, as they can contribute to prevention of irregular migration to the EU." They also expressed their support for more efficient protection of the external border with a stronger role of EU Agencies in line with the specific situations in individual member states. They also called for continuation of negotiations on the Pact on Migration and Asylum, which should efficiently address the pressing issue of secondary movements.
"During the working lunch we had an open exchange of views on the future course of negotiations towards sustainable solutions in the Pact on Migration and Asylum. "After the work done so far, my aim was to take stock and assess the progress of our efforts based on the better understanding of the concept of responsibility and solidarity as foreseen in the Pact." The ministers agreed that the calculations and simulations compiled by EASO and the European Commission have contributed to a better understanding of the migration load for the member states, while the aspect of secondary movements and returns should also be included. An efficient and common returns policy is one of the key pillars of the migration policy. "I am under the impression that the former evident differences in opinion between member states have disappeared and that we have demonstrated the will to find a single and sustainable solution and continue towards gradual progress in negotiations on the Pact on Migration and Asylum."
The ministers also discussed the EU recovery funds and on how infiltration by organised crime into legal structures and processes can best be prevented. "We agreed that detection and prevention of infiltration by organised crime into legal structures requires a coordinated approach on the EU level," Minister Hojs said and added that most ministers agree that prevention measures should include multi-agency cooperation and a combination of law enforcement, criminal law and administrative tools as well as exchange of information between the countries. "The EU's recovery and resilience also depend on the money not ending up in the hands of organised criminal groups in the guise of legal structures. The large recovery package will be a temptation for organised crime, so we, as the home affairs teams, have an important role to play here."
After the European Commission had proposed new rules to strengthen the level of protection and resilience of infrastructures in September 2020, the Slovenian Presidency succeeded in reaching an agreement on the Council's negotiating mandate on the proposal of the directive on the resilience of critical entities. The entities will need to be capable of avoiding, resisting and subsequently recovering after natural and other disasters, terrorist attacks and other public health urgencies. "This is an important directive for the provision of the fundamental service for social and economic activities and for the welfare of citizens. So this is good news for European resilience," Minister Hojs summarised and praised the work of the group that negotiated the directive's text.
Minister Hojs briefly reiterated the key achievements of the Slovenian Presidency in field of home affairs, among which he highlighted the joint statement on the EU's response to the situation in Afghanistan, which the Slovenian Presidency coordinated at the August informal meeting of ministers of the interior. "This was a statement on migration that, after considerable time, unified the position of the Council. I believe that it is thanks to this determined and unified voice of the EU that we are currently not experiencing major migration pressure from Afghanistan, something that was often mentioned before the August informal meeting." The Minister also pointed out the joint statement of the EU, Western Balkans and US ministers on the importance of preventive action and awareness raising as well as political support for adequate tools for the detection and prevention of sexual child abuse.
The Council also adopted the Council's decision on closer cross-border police cooperation in the field of missing persons. Both achievements are a great contribution to policing, particularly in terms of closer cooperation with partners from the Western Balkans, Slovenia's strategic region. "We shall remain very busy until mid-December, when we plan to submit the proposal of regulation on the Eurodac biometric database, as part of the Pact on Migration and Asylum into the political decision-making. We are also going to meet with our Transatlantic partners with the intention of improving the resilience of our societies through gradual progress towards a safer Europe and world. We are going to discuss migration, mobility and cooperation in countering terrorism and extremism and commit to closer cooperation by issuing a joint statement."
Minister Hojs concluded the Council meeting by thanking his home affairs team for their dedicated and goal-focused work throughout the Presidency. "These results could not have been achieved without such a dedicated team of colleagues." Minister Hojs also wished every success to the French Minister, to whom he symbolically passed the reins of the EU Home Affairs Council.