Slovenia aiming for progress on migration, asylum policies

Ljubljana – Slovenia’s EU presidency will try to achieve progress in negotiations on legislation under the framework of the asylum and migrations pact. Strengthening the Schengen zone and security are also high on the list of priorities.

Slovenia wants to make headway on the proposed regulation on the EU asylum agency, which would strengthen the mandate of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO).

Reform of asylum and migration policy is considered one of the most difficult issues in the bloc, as member states have spent years trying to reach a consensus, having widely differing views in particular on the relocation of migrants, mandatory quotas and mandatory solidarity.

Some believe abandoning the package approach would pave the way for a consensus on certain segments of the pact.

The Slovenian Interior Ministry says that on certain issues member states are sticking to their positions, which hampers progress. “This is why a lot of consideration and patience will be required to reach compromises and a convergence of positions.”

Interior Minister Aleš Hojs said after a meeting between EU interior ministers and their peers from several African countries in Lisbon in mid-May that a major portion of the pact could be adopted separately during this term of the European Commission.

But mandatory solidarity, “which some see in the relocation of migrants” will “not come to pass,” he said in reference to firm negotiating positions of some Mediterranean member states in particular.

Slovenia supports solidarity and does not oppose relocation as one of the measures of “flexible solidarity,” but it says this may not involve the regular distribution of migrants, it should be an emergency measure extended only to persons entitled to international protection.

Relocation numbers must be proportionate to country size, GDP, the migration pressure it is subjected to, and its absorption capacity, the Interior Ministry says.

“In our understanding, flexibility means that a member state may replace solidarity with a different measure.”

Another issue that is likely to be on the Slovenian presidency’s agenda is the external dimension of migrations and efforts to forge partnerships with third countries.

In Lisbon, Minister Hojs said bilateral agreements between individual EU and African countries were a more realistic possibility.

The ministry says the onus is on the Commission and the External Action Service. “We expect a proposal on the formation of mutual partnerships with third countries that will contribute to the common management of migrations and effective returns.”

As part of the Brdo-Brijuni Process, Slovenia will attempt to make headway regarding migrations in Western Balkans at a ministerial meeting in June, whereby certain activities planned to be under way during its six-month stint would be wrapped up at an EU-Western Balkans ministerial forum in December.

Slovenia’s presidency comes at a time when appeals for the normal functioning of the Schengen zone and the reopening of internal borders are growing louder as the Covid-19 pandemic abates.

The Interior Ministry says debate about the normal functioning of Schengen is expected, but specific legislative proposals by the Commission are not expected before autumn.

“During the presidency we’ll continue with debates about the future Schengen strategy, but in June we only expect a Commission proposal on changes to the Schengen evaluation mechanism.”

As for the Schengen zone – Croatia has stepped up efforts to put its membership of the Schengen zone on the Council’s agenda during Slovenia’s presidency – Slovenia is in favour of an expansion of the passport-free zone.

Prime Minister Janez Janša said last week after talks with European Parliament President David Sassoli that Slovenia supported the Schengen zone membership of Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania, which he said would strengthen security in the region.

And security is one of the overarching priorities of Slovenia’s presidency, in particular regional security in Western Balkans.

Since security in the region affects security in Slovenia and the entire EU, Minister Hojs said efforts would be made to strengthen police cooperation and the exchange of information between the EU and countries in the region, in particular with respect to the investigation and prevention of sexual abuses of children, and on missing persons.