01 August 2019

Romania’s EU Council presidency just ended. What are the benefits it brought to the European Union’s security?

Marian Tutilescu

On the background of increasingly more frequent appraisals made lately concerning Romania’s EU Council presidency (PRES RO), I think it is correct to remind ourselves of the fact that the beginning of the presidency in January was marked by the pessimism and distrust prevalent in the Romanian society on the capacity of those involved in the process to manage, be it reasonably, the complex cases from the Union’s agenda.

Image source: Mediafax

If we strictly refer to migration and internal affairs, most of the cases were taken over from previous presidencies, for example those regarding the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). They lacked notable progress, especially due to the difficulty of negotiations to reach consensus among member states or the different visions of the main European institutions involved in the legislative procedure.

Such distrustful opinions were unfortunately expressed not only in the internal political sphere, but also at the leadership of the European Commission, which induced a sentiment of frustration among experts. The latter benefited from the significant support of the Commission’s General Secretariat in order to prepare the presidency, and who previously worked with the Austrian presidency, to accustom to the agenda’s problems.

In the second part of 2018, I reviewed in a series of articles the extremely complex cases on the agenda of the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council, especially in the fields of internal security and migration. I must admit that, despite knowing and trusting the professionalism of Romanian experts in the field, I had some reserves on the number cases which could be finalized, mainly due to some external factors. One of these factors was the PRES RO’s effective work time, as both European Parliament and European Commission members were set to become involved in the EU elections campaign, and the second was the lack of progress made on these cases during past presidencies, some already at their third term, which is of course due to the sensibilities of these cases we previously thoroughly examined. I requested the readers back then to trust our experts, who through their professionalism, tenacity and perseverance could surpass all those apparently insurmountable obstacles.

Here is why now, at the end of the PRES RO’s term, I consider it my duty to sincerely state that its results in migration and home affairs greatly surpassed my expectations and that, for a presidency at its first term leading the EU, they are rather spectacular.

I would like to send a special appraisal in this context to Romania’s Permanent Representation to the EU, that wonderful team of unseen and not very well-known experts, whose tireless work has facilitated obtaining these results. We must highlight the fact that many of the migration and home affairs cases were finalized at the Permanent Representatives’ Council (COREPER II) presided by Romania’s representative to the EU, Ambassador Luminita Odobescu.

Last but not least, I would like to congratulate the Romanian experts who led the Council’s working groups and who effectively carried out negotiations to obtain a consensus among member states on some of the most delicate subjects in the area.

The impact of PRES RO’s achievements on the European Union’s internal security environment

“A safer Europe” was one of PRES RO’s objectives at the beginning of its term at the helm of the EU Council’s presidency. The principles which stood at the base of attaining this goal were solidarity among member states, resource-sharing and the exchange of information.

In the following, we will present the most important achievements the presidency had in the fields of migration and home affairs, which required important efforts in working group negotiations and COREPER II in order to attain consensus.

One of the most important cases solved by the PRES RO was the adoption of the Regulation on the European Border and Coast Guard (EBCG/FRONTEX). Intense negotiations were carried out to obtain a consensus among member states and co-lawmakers on two sensible aspects in the project: extending the number of standing corps from 1,500 currently to 10,000 in 2027 and giving FRONTEX the ability to issue return decisions, thus violating the sovereignty of member states. A consensus was reached on extending the agency’s personnel, according to the Commission’s initial proposals, and it also received increased competencies, excepting the right to issue return decisions, which remained the exclusive competency of member states. The new EBCG Regulation incorporates the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR) within the agency, in order to learn about threats at the EU’s border in real time and thus extend the number of personnel in its rapid response force.

In applying the principle of information exchange, the JHA Council adopted a new Regulation for Immigration Liaison Officers, which governs EU representatives deployed in non-EU states to help tackle illegal migration, created in 2004. Their role is to cooperate with third-parties or source-states in order combat migrant trafficking networks, facilitate return processes to countries of origin and the exchange of information with law enforcement agency in these states. We must mention here the fact that these liaison officers were deployed in third party states both by EU member states and by EU agencies, especially FRONTEX. In order to improve the coordination of their activity, the new regulation created a Council of leadership in the EU, which will also manage the funds allotted to the liaison officer’s network.

One relevant PRES RO achievement is reaching consensus on a partial approach to the Return Directive, as part of an integrated migration management. Out of the Directive’s entire content, only the border procedure for returns has remained in talks, as the purpose of this procedure is defined in the Asylum Procedures Regulation, which is currently being negotiated in the working group.

Taking into account the fact that, in the field of migration, criminality knows no borders, the EU Council approved in May two new regulations on ensuring interoperability between the EU’s information systems in the areas of justice and home affairs. These will allow representatives of law enforcement agencies from member states to more easily access existing relevant information in databases, especially to detect multiple identity cases, especially useful in border controls. All these systems will be managed by the EU’s agency to manage large scale IT systems (EU-LISA).

In order to decreases the number of identity fraud cases, in the context of easing the citizens’ liberty of movement, but also the limiting the possibility of criminal networks to falsify ID’s, a Regulation on strengthening the security of identity cards was approved, which sets unitary rules for EU member states. The new rules will improve the security of these documents pertaining to EU citizens, by introducing minimum standards on the information they must contain and their security characteristics, and will contain strict rules on the protection of the personal data they englobe.

Another important achievement managed by PRE RO in the fight against terrorism is the adoption of a Regulation on law enforcement access to financial information. The regulation’s provisions establish what type of offences these rules are applied to and facilitates the exchange of information between competent agencies.

As part of the fight against terrorism, PRES RO granted a special attention to preventing and combatting radicalization in prison, towards which the JHA Council approved a set of best practices, in order to improve the cooperation and information exchange between law enforcement agencies in EU member states in this area.

Romanian experts had an initiative in the area of information analysis, meant to create an EU platform to improve the best practice and cooperation exchange in the area (Novel Actionable Information), which was approved through the JHA Council’s Conclusion. This initiative was also filed based on various analytic product models made by competent agencies in the member states, which usually do not allow the efficient exchange of information between them.

Finally, one of the last legislative projects that were finished concerns the EU’s visa code, with the new regulation offering facilitated access within EU territory for citizens of other states who are legally travelling, while it also adds instruments for law enforcement agencies to tackle the problem of illegal migration.

The reform of the Common European Asylum System is one of the most complex legal packages, both by the significant number of legislative projects (7) as well as through their sensibility, especially in the case of the new Dublin regulation project. PRES RO has carried out intense negotiations, both on a technical and political level, to advance these cases based on temporary arrangements. Their results were included in report PRES RO presented at the EU Council on a series of non-binding elements, based on temporary arrangements, to disembark immigrants, either saved or taken over by ships belonging to humanitarian organizations, especially in the Mediterranean. This is one of the most challenging situations the EU is currently facing, especially on the subject of accepting to disembark the migrants and later voluntary relocate them among member states, according to the principle of solidarity. This report is a step forward towards solving this law package, which will remain a challenge for the upcoming EU Council presidencies.

It should also be mentioned that the first 100 days of the Romanian Presidency, before the European Parliament elections campaign started, were extremely loaded but also fruitful, which shows extremely rigorous planning ahead, but also a coherent approach, based on priorities and the subjects on the agenda.

How could Romania capitalize on the trust it gained during the presidency

If we make an overview of the offices held by Romanian representatives in the leadership structures of European agencies or institutions, we sadly see that they are few and not too important. With the exception of several director roles in the European Commission’s general directorates, which were more rather obtained through the own efforts of those who currently hold them, we did not gain any significant offices within European agencies. This comes despite the fact that we have proven, now or in the past with other occasions, that we have experts who are capable to be appointed to these offices; but what we lack is a coherent national strategy to gain these roles, separate from political influences or personal interests.

Most of the time, interested experts monitor these offices and request to be supported, more or less professionally, through lobbying activities, which they do not always obtain. On the other hand, they are not always the most qualified for the respective office, so in many occasions they do not make the short list, while other experts with real possibilities to manage that office are not taken into account or not supported for subjective reasons.

This reactive approach dates way back, and is the result of the lack or insufficient collaboration between national institutions with competencies in the area of European affairs and, of course, the lack of any regulations to set the rights and obligations for each of them. This is, in my opinion, the right moment for the representatives of those institutions to start talks on developing a clear strategy and coherent regulations in the field.

We should say the fact that, following analyses that are presumably made within the institutions involved in activities related to the EU Council presidency, those experts who stood out through their negotiation abilities or the efficient management of processes should be taken into account for leadership offices, which are temporarily occupied by other pseudo-professionals through that gimmick named “delegation”. The latter, most of the time, have nothing to do with the respective field and, unfortunately, these types of examples generate sentiments of frustration and decommitment from the real professionals.

We can only hope that those who are able to act can draw the necessary conclusions from how this national exercise worked out and will properly capitalize on the opportunities brought by these results for Romanian experts to access important offices in European agencies and institutions.  

Translated by Ionut Preda