The mood this week is surprisingly calm compared with the frenzy of previous sessions building up to this final session of the Sixth Term of the European Parliament. There are many contentious issues and a huge amount of work – as always – but the hustle and buzz seems subdued.
I’ve been following a particular dossier for the past few months which comes up for debate today and will be voted tomorrow, along with four other policies that are being recast – modified after a period of implementation. Together they are referred to as the asylum package.
A package of measures to improve the way the EU asylum system works and strengthening asylum seekers’ rights is being put forward by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee. MEPs propose amendments to enhance solidarity between Member States when managing asylum applications. The five co-decision reports that make up the package will be debated on Wednesday (6 May).
In particular, I’ve been observing the progress of COD/2009/0027, Establishing a European Asylum Support Office, which – this morning – is at the stage of “Awaiting EP decision, 1st reading or one reading only.” Over the past two months, I have been able to watch debate unfold among most of the political groups in the Parliament and also between the Parliament, Council, and European Commission. There are some definite points of tension reflective of different ideological stances, as well as large areas of agreement. The process of negotiating compromise is what the intra- and interinstitutional structure of meetings, with reports and amendments and – eventually – voting, is designed to accomplish.
Each act of legislation is designed to stand on its own, but must also complement related procedures and relevant law. Thus my interest has been drawn to the extended asylum recast, which includes the European Refugee Fund, Minimum Reception Standards for Asylum Seekers, Member State Responsibility for Application and Protection of Asylum Seekers (known as “Dublin”), and the EURODAC fingerprinting system.
There are two Amendment (#15 and 19) to the Minimum Reception Standards concerning language that I have been watching closely. Bold marks changes. The original text from the European Commission (#15) reads,
Detained asylum seekers shall immediately be informed of the reasons for detention, the maximum duration of the detention and the procedures laid down in national law for challenging the detention order, in a language they are reasonably supposed to understand.
and the proposed text reads:
Detained asylum seekers shall immediately be informed of the reasons for detention, the maximum duration of the detention and the procedures laid down in national law for challenging the detention order, in a language they understand or may reasonably be presumed to understand.
Amendment 19 makes the same proposal concerning information being provided in a language that the seeker may be presumed to understand. While Amendment 15 refers specifically to the written notification that they will receive regarding the outcome of their request for asylum, Amendment 19 regards the provision of information about the rules, rights, and obligations of applying for asylum.
While the amendments above refer to written texts, Amendment 3 in the Member State Responsibility for Application and Protection bill refers to the provision of oral information.
Amendment 25 refers again to language, although the amendment aims to replace “person” with “applicant,” leaving the original text: “Such notification shall be made in writing, in a language which the applicant is reasonably supposed to understand…” (my emphasis). A later Amendment brings this language into conformity with the formulation proposed in the other bills.
Amendment 35 to the EURODAC proposes the same language as that in the Minimum Standards amendments, but mentions both written and oral modes:
“A person covered by this Regulation shall be informed by the Member State of origin in writing, and where appropriate, orally, in a language which he or she understands or may reasonably be presumed to understand…”
At the end of all of these Amendments is a further Amendment which would change the language to state openly and without equivocation that information/communication needs to occur with asylum seekers in a language they understand, full stop.
We’ll see what happens.