Migration issues are set to dominate a meeting of member states’ interior ministers in Brussels next Thursday (24 February). The ministers will discuss Greece’s progress in handling irregular migration and how Italy might be supported as it copes with thousands of migrants landing on the island of Lampedusa last week (see article above).
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Ministers might have some tough questions for the Greek government, which is to report on plans to upgrade its capacities for border control and processing asylum applications.
The EU hopes that a readmission agreement concluded with Turkey in January will ease the burden on Greece. Interior ministers are expected to give their political backing to the agreement. But European Parliament approval may be delayed by concerns that migrants will not have access to effective protection in Turkey. Ratification by Turkey also appears uncertain, after the government made it conditional on the EU easing visa requirements for Turkish citizens – a move unacceptable to several member states.
The ministers will discuss when Romania and Bulgaria might join the Schengen area of borderless travel. But accession has already been deferred to the second half of this year at the earliest, in the face of strong reservations from France and Germany.
The European Commission will present a new system for monitoring fraudulent asylum applications from citizens from the western Balkans. Most no longer need visas for short-stay visits to the EU.
The ministers will also be briefed by the Commission and by Europol, the EU’s police co-operation agency, on a review of the operation of an agreement with the United States on the exchange of bank transfer data.