Motion to Agree

Part of UK Opt-in to the Proposed Council Decision on the Relocation of Migrants within the EU (EUC Report) – in the House of Lords at 3:51 pm on 22nd July 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Prashar Baroness Prashar Chair, EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee 3:51 pm, 22nd July 2015

My Lords, I beg to move this Motion as chairman of the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, which prepared the report to which the Motion relates. I thank all members of the sub-committee, the clerk to that committee, Theo Pembroke, and the policy analyst, Lena Donner, for their assistance with the preparation of the report.

As your Lordships know, when the House considers reports from the European Union Committee, it is normally on a Motion that the House takes note of the report. In this case, the Motion invites the House to agree the committee’s recommendations. The reason is that this report deals with a proposed European Council decision, which falls within the area of justice and home affairs and which will apply to the United Kingdom only if the Government exercise their right under protocols to the EU treaties to participate in its negotiation, adoption and implementation—in other words if the Government, having taken into account the views of the committee, opt in. The Government have to do this within three months of the proposal being presented to the Council. In this case, the deadline will expire on 27 August so I am extremely grateful that time has been made available to debate this opt-in report at short notice and before the expiry of that three-month period.

The background to this debate is the global migration crisis and, specifically, its tragic consequences in the Mediterranean. In a single incident off the coast of Libya in April, more than 800 people lost their lives. Italy and Greece are on the front line. The proposal that is the subject of this debate focuses narrowly on the EU’s attempt to alleviate the burden that has fallen on Italy and Greece in responding to this humanitarian crisis. The fact is that Italy and Greece are unable to cope with looking after migrants and processing their claims for international protection status. Conditions have become so poor in Greece that the European Court of Justice has held that states that return asylum seekers to Greece are in breach of the prohibition against torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

In response, the emergency European Council summit in April agreed to consider organising emergency relocation between all member states on a voluntary basis. What this meant in practice was that the member states agreed voluntarily to assist Greece and Italy by taking in or relocating some of the migrants already based in those countries. However, in May, the EU Commission proposed a Council decision that, if adopted, would create a temporary scheme to relocate 40,000 migrants entering the EU via Italy and Greece to other member states, with the precise numbers to be determined in accordance with a mandatory quota system. Since that point, the Commission and the European Council seem to have been in disagreement. What happened next was that the European Council agreed at its meeting in June that the Council of Ministers should adopt a Council decision providing for,

“the temporary and exceptional relocation over two years from the frontline Member States Italy and Greece to other Member States of 40,000 persons in clear need of international protection, in which all Member States will participate … all members will agree by consensus by the end of July on the distribution of such persons, reflecting the specific situation of Member States”.

This meant that the European Council accepted the principle that 40,000 migrants should be relocated from Greece and Italy, and the reference to agreement on distribution by consensus, rather than by qualified majority voting, underlined that the European Council was rejecting the mandatory nature of the scheme proposed by the Commission and reverting to a voluntary political agreement.

Earlier this week, on 20 July, after the report was published, the Justice and Home Affairs Council agreed to a voluntary scheme that would relocate 32,256 migrants—almost 8,000 short of the target agreed by the European Council. Germany has agreed to take 10,000; Luxembourg, with a population of a little over half a million, is taking 320; even Malta, which is already overburdened with migrants entering Europe by sea, is taking 60. The UK is taking none—not even one.