Emil Radev, MEP (EPP/GERB):
Illegal migrants return must be expedited
More European and bilateral readmission agreements need to be signed
Maria Koleva, Brussels
19 May, 2017
Close-up: Emil Radev was born on 26 May 1971 in the city of Varna. He graduated in Law and Public Administration and is currently a graduate student in Commercial Law. He has worked as a lawyer in Varna. From 2009 till 2013 he was an MP in the 41st and 42nd National Assembly. He was elected MEP in 2014. He is a member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament. He speaks English, German and Russian.
- Mr Radev, you are among the four Bulgarian MEPs, representing three political families in the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), who recently submitted for consideration amendments to the European Commission’s draft proposal for an overhaul of the Dublin Regulation. What do you propose and how does it affect Bulgaria?
- The amendments we propose are aimed at reducing the refugee flow to Bulgaria through changes to the so-called Dublin Regulation, which establishes the country responsible for the examination of asylum applications. Under the current legislation, Bulgaria is obligated to record and accept all claims lodged by asylum seekers who have entered the country. But as you know, the country lacks the capacity to receive the thousands of immigrants coming to Europe.
This is why we propose that the Member State responsible should be determined not on the basis of first point of entry, as the rule is now, but on the basis of first lodging of an asylum application, irrespective of whether this is the country of first entry or not. In addition, we propose that the option to return migrants to Bulgaria just because they have entered the EU through its territory be scrapped. Continuing this line of thinking, I insist that in the case that an asylum seeker leaves a Member State for more than three months, especially when it is preceded by a rejected asylum application or a decision to return the citizen to their country of origin, said Member State should be freed of any responsibility for the citizen. This way, countries like Bulgaria will not be held responsible for an individual’s actions and decisions.
- A week ago, the LIBE Committee discussed the new measures put forward by the Commission on returning immigrants who have no right to stay in the EU. In your opinion, are they enough to speed up the process?
- The terror attacks in Stockholm in April and Berlin in December of last year exposed the need for special attention to be paid to having effective and quick procedures for the return of migrants who do not meet the international protection criteria. True, the procedures are faced with serious practical obstacles but only through returning all people with no right to reside on European territory can the asylum seeker system survive and the security of citizens be improved.
This is why I believe that cooperation with third countries should be stepped up and more specifically - more readmission agreements should be signed, both European and bilateral. Cooperation with countries of origin and transit should also be enhanced so as to bust human smuggling networks used by thousands of people to reach Europe.
- Is it not paradoxical that Bulgaria is tasked with protecting the EU’s external border and yet it is still not a member of the Schengen area?
- European Commission officials have repeatedly said that Bulgaria is ready to join the Schengen area. The European Parliament (EP) has adopted several resolutions on the topic, urging the Council to approve our membership. Moreover, we are regularly praised, including by the President of the European Council Donald Tusk for protecting the EU’s external border well, especially in the context of the migrant crisis. It is no coincidence that the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCG) was launched at the Bulgarian-Turkish border. Unfortunately, Bulgaria is not part of Schengen due to reasons of domestic policy nature originating in certain Member States. This is why Bulgaria should continue to exert diplomatic pressure on sceptical nations and convince them that it is of the interest of the Schengen area and European security to accept Bulgaria as a member. Meanwhile, I do whatever I can to make sure that all legislative files regarding EU border protection include Bulgaria too, instead of focusing exclusively on Schengen. For example, amendments proposed by me and other Bulgarian officials make sure that the country participates in the EBCG and that the introduction of the new smart borders system covers all EU borders, including the Bulgarian.
- Is there a chance that the quota allocation of migrants will be replaced by a more flexible instrument taking into account the interests of all Member States?
- Let me start by saying that, for the moment, we only have a temporary system for the allocation of refugees arriving from three countries - Syria, Eritrea and Iraq - to the hotspots in Italy and Greece, and not of economic immigrants. The EC’s efforts to introduce a mandatory reallocation system have been replaced by an agreement between Member States for voluntary reception of refugees depending on their capacity and socio-economic situation. For example, Bulgaria has declared capacity to receive 550 people and has already received 29 people from the hotspots in Greece and none from those in Italy, as of 25 April. At the same time, the EC’s proposed amendments to the Dublin Regulation envision a permanent reallocation mechanism, which, in my opinion, is not viable long-term. This is why, together with my colleague Mariya Gabriel, we submitted amendments to the reference number of the migrant applications each Member State is expected to handle, the percentage above that reference number at which the load becomes disproportionate and reallocation starts as well as the solidarity contribution required for not participating in the mechanism. We propose that the criteria for determining the reference number should include GDP growth (as an indicator of how much the economic situation in a country is improving), unemployment rate (because it is unfair for countries with high unemployment to receive asylum seekers), and the economically active population (which is essentially the people who pay taxes and provide the financial assistance for asylum seekers).
I also believe that the reallocation mechanism should be triggered at 75% instead of 150% above the reference number in order to avoid crisis situations in reception centres and allow enough time for the allocation to begin.
Last but not least, we propose that the solidarity contribution of €250,000 for each applicant be scrapped as it unnecessarily punishes poorer European nations such as Bulgaria, not to mention being an impingement upon national sovereignty. This is why I proposed an amendment reaffirming Member States’ right to refuse to receive applicants, especially in the presence of an immediate threat to the national security.
- In your opinion, are central and eastern European countries’ concerns regarding the idea of multi-speed Europe justified?
- Right now, there is a real chance that several Member States could go ahead with increased cooperation between them whenever unanimity on a particular subject cannot be reached within the Council. A good example is the European Prosecutor’s Office, an initiative of 16 Member States which Bulgaria joined but Switzerland could not for purely constitutional reasons. Other Member States have the choice to join at a later stage, if they should want to.
But increased cooperation is one thing and introducing multiple speed lanes in the EU is a completely different thing. What concerns me is that the latter scenario could mean the emergence of mini clubs whose members will decide whether to admit outsiders or not, as is the case with the Schengen area and the Eurozone, instead of letting in every country willing to join. As a country, we must clearly state our position that a priority should be upholding unity in the EU and making a concerted effort to achieve common goals, instead of looking for divisive mechanisms.
- The EC announced its intention to be done with reports under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for Bulgaria and Romania by the end of its term? Is there a chance that this could happen earlier than 2019?
- I am not sure if your readers are aware, but there are a total of five people in the EC working on the CVM for Bulgaria and Romania, of which only two full-time and most of them have no law training or professional experience in the justice or law enforcement systems. It is unacceptable for reports prepared by such individuals to decide the future of our country and its image in the eyes of EU partners. So I welcome the support that the President of the EC Jean-Claude Juncker showed for abandoning the CVM for Bulgaria and Romania because the mechanism has proven to be ineffective - it lacks clear assessment criteria for reforms undertaken, annual reports contain different and sometimes contradictory conclusions and recommendations and no timeframe for their implementation is set. It has become obvious that keeping to this mechanism is a vote of support for double standards in Europe - let us not forget that corruption and organised crime are problems in all Member States, even as they are not being monitored. Furthermore, the mechanism is hindering Bulgaria’s Schengen membership - unacceptable given that fulfilling the reports’ recommendations is not part of the Schengen accession criteria.
- Despite tighter security measures, the threat of terror attacks in Europe is rising. How will the new requirements regarding the inspection of documents of EU citizens and citizens of third countries upon leaving and entering the bloc and the Schengen area reduce the risk of new incidents?
The introduction of regular inspections of EU citizens upon entering and leaving the bloc was necessitated by the large number of EU citizens of foreign origin who travelled to Iraq, Syria and Libya and easily returned to the EU under the previous regime. The new system will allow thorough inspections of personal identification documents to see if they might be stolen, lost or fake but also whether the individual represents a threat to the national security and public order in the EU. Thus, agencies will have a clear understanding of who is attempting to cross the border and people representing security threat will be apprehended.
- In your opinion, how should cooperation with the UK in the area of anti-terrorism efforts should develop once the country exits the EU?
- The UK has always been and will remain a valuable EU partner in combating terrorism. There are different options to sign sector agreements for cooperation between the EU, including Interpol, and third countries and I hope the UK takes advantage of them following Brexit.
- Speaking of Brexit, are there any guarantees that the EU will be able to protect the interests of the nearly 3 million European citizens living and working in the UK?
- The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Donald Tusk have been very clear that clarifying the status of European citizens in the UK and British citizens in Europe will be a priority and they hope that a consensus could be reached by the end of the year. To me, it is important that Bulgarian citizens in the UK know that the new cabinet led by PM Boyko Borisov, as well as Bulgarian MEPs, will do whatever they can to protect their rights.