RELEX–019

 

Brussels, 13 July 2004

DRAFT OPINION

of the

Committee of the Regions

of 17 June 2004

on the

Proposal for a Council Decision establishing the European Refugee Fund

for the period 2005-2010

COM(2004) 102 final – 2004/0032 (CNS)

____________

 
 

 

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

HAVING REGARD TO the Commission Proposal for a Council Decision establishing the European Refugee Fund for the period 2005-2010 (COM(2004) 102 final; 2004/0032 (CNS));

 

HAVING REGARD TO the Council's decision of 23 February 2004 to consult it on this subject, under the first paragraph of Article 265 of the Treaty establishing the European Community;

 

HAVING REGARD TO its President's decision of 6 November 2003 to instruct the CoR Commission for External Relations to draw up an opinion on this subject;

 

HAVING REGARD TO the Treaty establishing the European Community, and in particular Article 63(2)(b) thereof;

 

HAVING REGARD TO its Opinion on the Proposal for a Council Decision creating a European Refugee Fund (COM(1999) 686 final – 1999/0274 CNS, CdR 80/2000 fin1));

 

HAVING REGARD TO its Opinion on the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on immigration, integration and employment (COM(2003) 336 final, CdR 223/2003 fin2);

 

HAVING REGARD TO its other Opinions dealing specifically with refugee policy (CdR 90/2001 fin3; CdR 214/2001 fin4; CdR 93/2002 fin5; CdR 249/2003 fin6);

 

HAVING REGARD TO the draft opinion adopted on 4 May 2004 by the Commission for External Relations (CdR 80/2004 rev. 1) (rapporteur: Mr Gustav Skuthälla, Leader of Närpes Town Council, (FI/ELDR));

 

1) WHEREAS the second phase of the European Refugee Fund should be a more effective and important instrument for achieving the main objectives set for it, i.e. the sharing of responsibilities between Member States and the implementation of a common asylum policy in all the Member States,

 

2) WHEREAS, in order to achieve the stated objectives, it is necessary that the Fund be guaranteed adequate appropriations throughout its period of operation, taking special account of EU enlargement and the needs of all the new Member States,

adopted the following opinion at its 55th plenary session, held on 16 and 17 June 2004 (meeting of 17 June 2004):

1.       The Committee of the Regions' views

The Committee of the Regions

1.1       approves the Commission proposal as amended below;

1.2       appreciates the work done by the Commission, Member States, local and regional authorities, organisations, refugees themselves and other parties to achieve the goals set for the first phase of the European Refugee Fund;

1.3       appreciates the Commission's work to draw up a new proposal and believes the Commission has succeeded in taking into account a substantial part of the results of the evaluation of the first phase and the assessments of the various parties concerned;

1.4       thinks that the principle of shared responsibility between Member States and the arrangements proposed for implementing it are fair;

1.5       considers that the proposed fixed amount of appropriations which is to be earmarked for implementing actions in Member States and the amount to be set aside for technical and administrative assistance are the absolute minimum levels needed to ensure that all Member States can participate in the programme and develop their national systems to bring them into line with the general European level; stresses that particularly local players in the Member States that took part in the first phase of the European Refugee Fund need further training and guidance in order to be able to implement high-quality projects;

1.6       feels that it is important to ensure that all people enjoying international protection in the Member States are covered by the Fund's activities, regardless of the national procedure under which they entered the Member State; also believes it is important to take special account of the needs of the most vulnerable refugees in implementing the programme. The most vulnerable groups include, for example, unaccompanied minors, single mothers or single women (women at risk), victims of torture, abuse or other inhuman and degrading treatment and people in need of special medical treatment;

1.7       endorses the comprehensive approach to asylum policy proposed by the Commission whereby the Fund can be used to support the improvement of the conditions of asylum seekers and promote integration and returns, whilst taking into consideration local, regional and national circumstances;

1.8       considers it important to fund Community actions and emergency measures, in addition to national measures. Community actions could become an important instrument for strategic planning and development at European level if they are used to foster wide-ranging practical projects at political level and local and regional level in such a way that they complement each other. An adequate proportion of the Fund's resources must be earmarked for Community actions, with due regard for their complementarity and transparency in their implementation;

1.9       emphasises that the effects of the reception of asylum seekers and refugees are most evident at local level in the communities which receive these groups and urges that local and regional authorities be involved in such decisions on reception and integration in their communities;

1.10      draws attention to the fact that promoting integration is a key issue for a European refugee and asylum policy based on respect for human rights and success is this regard is crucial for the continued balanced development of local communities;

1.11      stresses the right of everyone to voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity;

1.12      supports the Commission's efforts to improve the strategic planning of the programme through multiannual programming;

1.13      emphasises that strategic planning must take place openly in a genuine partnership between the Commission and Member States, regardless of whether it concerns national measures, Community actions or emergency measures;

1.14      draws particular attention to the key role of local and regional players as regards the responsibility they bear in the reception of asylum seekers and refugees and in actions promoting integration; consequently regrets that the Commission proposal does not provide for sufficiently wide consultation of local and regional authorities in planning the implementation of the programme and taking decisions on its funding. The proposal does not do enough to ensure that local and regional players have an opportunity to participate in developing good practice in connection with Community actions.

2. The Committee of the Regions' recommendations

Recommendation 1

Recital 4

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

(4) It is necessary to support the efforts made by the Member States to grant appropriate reception conditions to refugees and displaced persons and to apply fair and effective asylum procedures so as to protect the rights of persons requiring international protection and enable asylum systems to work smoothly.

(4) It is necessary to support and improve the efforts made by the Member States to grant appropriate reception conditions to refugees and displaced persons when taking account of the special needs of the most vulnerable groups (such as unaccompanied minors, single mothers or single women, victims of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment and abuse or individuals in need of special medical treatment), and to apply fair and effective asylum procedures so as to protect the rights of persons requiring international protection and enable asylum systems to work smoothly.

Reason

It is important to improve reception facilities if they are not yet at an appropriate level. Particularly where the number of asylum-seekers is high, the people who are the most vulnerable are not always identified and as a result the essential needs specific to these groups are overlooked. Identification of the people most at risk is made easier by a definition which indicates which groups of people belong to this category. Through appropriate support, care and other special arrangements, the plight of these people can be relieved and the way opened for their subsequent integration or possible return to their country of origin.

Recommendation 2

Recital 8

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

(8) Practical support is needed to create or improve conditions enabling refugees and displaced persons to take an informed decision to leave the territory of the Member States and return home, should they so wish.

(8) Practical support is needed to create or improve conditions enabling refugees and displaced persons to take an informed decision to leave the territory of the Member States and return home, should they so wish, in safety and dignity.

Reason

Under no circumstances must the European Refugee Fund support returns if it cannot be guaranteed that people can return to their home country safely and with respect for their human rights.

Recommendation 3

Recital 15

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

(15) The Member States should provide sufficient guarantees as regards arrangements for implementation and quality of execution, as regards the results of action implementation and assessment and as regards proper financial management and supervision.

(15) The Member States should provide sufficient guarantees as regards arrangements for implementation and quality of execution, as regards the results of action implementation and its transparency and as regards assessment and as regards proper financial management and supervision.

Reason

Implementation must be transparent under all circumstances.

Recommendation 4

Article 4(1)(d) (new)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

 

(d) the voluntary return of persons whose application for protection as mentioned in Article 3(1-3) has been rejected, provided they have not acquired a new nationality or have not left the territory of the Member State.

Reason

It is justified to use Fund resources to also support the voluntary return of people whose applications for support have been rejected, and not only those whose applications are still being considered.

Recommendation 5

Article 4(3)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

3. Actions shall take account of gender-related issues and of the specific needs of the most vulnerable, including persons who have been tortured or subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment and shall give priority to the best interests of children. The actions provided for in paragraph 1(a), (b) and (c) may be carried out on a joint basis.

3. Actions shall take account of gender-related issues, the best interests of children and of the specific needs of the most vulnerable, including unaccompanied minors, single mothers or single women, persons who have been tortured or subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment and abuse or who are in need of special medical treatment shall give priority to the best interests of children. The actions provided for in paragraph 1(a), (b) and (c) may be carried out on a joint basis.

Reason

The best interests of children complies with the wording established in international agreements, and consequently it is proposed that it be stated specifically in the proposal. Identification of the most vulnerable people is made easier by a definition which indicates which groups belong to this category. The proposed list corresponds to that used by, for example, the UNHCR.

Recommendation 6

Article 6

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

Actions relating to integration into the society of the Member State of residence of the persons referred to in Article 4(1)(b) and members of their family, and in particular the following, shall be eligible for support from the Fund:

Actions relating to integration into the society of the Member State of residence of the persons referred to in Article 4 (1)(b) and members of their family, and in particular the following, shall be eligible for support from the Fund, as, for example, the following:

Reason

Since there is no uniform definition of integration indicators and no consensus about them, it must be emphasised that the actions specified here are only examples of ways of promoting integration.

Recommendation 7

Article 6, indent 3 (new)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

 

actions, which are intended to promote the adoption of the language and culture of the host country;

Reason

It must be emphasised that language is the key to active membership of the host community and society. There are many ways of learning a language and learning is closely bound up with culture. For this reason eligible actions should not be limited solely to, for example, education and training.

Recommendation 8

Article 6, indent 6

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

- actions to promote the integration of these persons involving local authorities, the general public or refugee associations, for example via voluntary work, sponsorship or the participation of socio-economic interest groups or trade unions.

- actions by local and regional authorities to promote the integration of these persons involving local authorities, the general public or refugee associations, for example via voluntary work, sponsorship or the participation of socio-economic interest groups or trade unions.

Reason

The means available to local and regional authorities for promoting integration are mainly related to the organisation of social services. In organising these services it is necessary to take into account availability, non-discrimination and other special requirements promoting the integration of refugees. In view of the crucial role of these actions they should be distinguished from other actions at local level. It is therefore proposed that the original text be amended and divided into two parts (recommendations 8 and 9).

Recommendation 9

Article 6, indent 7 (new)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

- actions to promote the integration of these persons involving local authorities, the general public or refugee associations, for example via voluntary work, sponsorship or the participation of socio-economic interest groups or trade unions.

- actions to promote the integration of these persons and dialogue between them and local communities, involving local authorities, the general public or refugee associations, for example via voluntary work, sponsorship or the participation of refugees' own associations and the general public, for example via voluntary work and sponsorship, or the activities of socio-economic interest groups or trade unions.

Reason

The purpose of this amendment is to highlight the fact that the concept of integration includes two-way dialogue and interaction between, on the one hand, the community and civil society more widely and, on other hand, the persons to be integrated. In addition, it should be stressed that refugees also bear a responsibility for the integration of new members into the community.

Recommendation 10

Article 8(2) (new paragraph 2; present paragraph 2 becomes paragraph 3)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

 

2. In selecting eligible actions there is a particular need to ensure the establishment of specific good practices at local and regional level

Reason

The eligible Community actions identified in the proposal seem to imply that support should be given mainly to central government agencies and operators at European level. However, it is often the case that best practices and innovative pilot projects are established and, above all, tested on the ground at projects involving local and regional players. Therefore it is important to ensure the implementation of cross-border projects involving local and regional players.

Recommendation 11

Article 9(2)(d)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

(d) staff and administration costs linked to reception of persons concerned and implementation of measures;

(d) staff and administration costs linked to reception of persons concerned, decision-making relating to the right of residence and implementation of measures;

Reason

The present wording does not make it clear that eligible emergency measures include decision-making relating to the right of residence. Decision-making is, however, an integral part of the implementation of emergency measures and the costs linked to it can be considerable.

Recommendation 12

Article 12(4)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

4. The responsible authorities’ tasks shall include the following:

4. With respect for transparency, the responsible authorities tasks shall carry out, inter alia, the following tasks:

Reason

Implementation must be transparent under all conditions and at all levels.

Recommendation 13

Article 12(4)(a)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

(a) consulting relevant partners (non-governmental organisations, local authorities, competent international organisations, social partners etc.) to establish the multiannual programme;

(a) consulting relevant partners (local and regional authorities and also non-governmental organisations, local authorities, competent international organisations, social partners etc.) to establish the multiannual programme;

Reason

Local and regional authorities play a key role in the activities of the European Refugee Fund as service providers and bearers of overall responsibility. Particularly policy related to the reception and integration of refugees cannot be planned or implemented in Member States without coordinating with these authorities. Therefore the decision must stipulate that the responsible authorities cooperate with local and regional authorities in programme planning.

Recommendation 14

Article 12(4)(c)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

(c)   organising selection and award procedures for Fund co-financing in accordance with the principles of transparency, equal treatment and non-combination of grants;

(a)   organising selection and award procedures for Fund co-financing in accordance with the principles of transparency, equal treatment and non-combination of grants; and in the light of the situation and requirements in the Member State; when projects are selected, account should also be taken of their cost effectiveness, in the light of the number of persons concerned by the projects, and the experience, expertise and reliability of the organisations, or any partner organisations, applying for funding;

Reason

Article 9(3) of the Council Decision of 28 September 2000 establishing the European Refugee Fund (see OJ L 252 of 6.10.2000, page 12 et seq.) [ERF I] has proved its worth and should therefore be incorporated into ERF II.  In particular, the responsible authorities should continue to select projects according to the criterion of the situation of the region or the local organising body and the criterion of need.  These appraisals can be carried out by regional and local coordination bodies in the individual Member States.  External experts are not in a position to make such appraisals.

Recommendation 15

Article 22(2)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

2.   A pre-financing payment representing 50% of the amount allocated in the Commission’s annual decision on co financing by the Fund shall be made to the Member State within sixty days following the adoption of the co financing decision;

(a)  A pre-financing payment representing 50% 70% of the amount allocated in the Commission’s annual decision on co financing by the Fund shall be made to the Member State within sixty days following the adoption of the co financing decision;

Reason

Less strict requirements should be imposed in respect of pre-financing payments to Member States in order to avoid placing an excessive burden on national budgets and the resources of the partners in the projects which are responsible for implementing the actions (NGOs etc.).

The President

of the Committee of the Regions  
 
 
 
 
Peter Straub

The Secretary-General

of the Committee of the Regions 
 
 
 
 
Gerhard Stahl

1  OJ C 317 of 6.11.2000, p.4


2  OJ C 109 of 30.4.2004, p.46


3  OJ C 19 of 22.1.2002, p.20


4  OJ C 107 of 3.5.2002, p.85


5  OJ C 278 of 14.11.2002, p.44


6  OJ C 23 of 27.1.2004, p.30


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CdR 80/2004 rev.1 FR-FI/MAL/nm