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Minister Poklukar attends Salzburg Forum and comments on the proposals for EU legislation, migration and crime in the Western Balkans

The Minister of the Interior, Boštjan Poklukar, attended the ministerial meeting of Salzburg Forum Member States in Bratislava, Slovakia, on 28 and 29 November 2018. On day one, the ministers focused on the current legislative issues that are under review in the context of the EU: the proposal for a regulation on the European Border and Coast Guard, the recast of the Return Directive, the proposal for the directive on the European Asylum Support Office. On day two, the conference also gathered respective interior ministers and other high representatives from the Western Balkans and Moldova. They talked about migration, border control and the current situation on organised crime in the Western Balkans, in particular weapons smuggling, smuggling of drugs and people smuggling. Minister Poklukar held several bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the conference.

Regarding the proposal for a regulation on the European Border and Coast Guard, the minister presented Slovenia’s preliminary position and said that Slovenia supports the proposal. The new legal basis will improve the operation of the Agency in the areas that are of special interest to Member States, including return and cooperation with the third countries. However, Slovenia expressed a reservation concerning the executive powers of the Agency’s standing corps (access to databases and conduct of procedures) in the sense that they affect Member States’ constitutional order and sovereignty. “Moreover, we are not convinced that the European Border and Coast Guard actually needs to employ a total of 10,000 staff. Member States would need to provide staff members from their existing national personnel pools, which is a huge undertaking, at least for Slovenia. We cannot allow the standing corps to negatively affect the competences of the states to protect their external borders,” said Minister Poklukar. The proposed regulation should therefore set out appropriate criteria, taking into consideration the size of national forces in charge of border control, the current migration pressure and the length of the external border managed by each Member State.

 

The Minister said that the Republic of Slovenia welcomed the proposal of the European Commission on recasting the Return Directive because the rate of returns continued to be very low. “Low return rates are not just a problem of the Member States who have to face increasing numbers of foreigners that cannot be returned. The pull factor is also very strong. This is why amending the legal basis is absolutely necessary. However, this measure alone will certainly not suffice. In our estimation, low return rates can be attributed to the lack of political will of the European Union to force third countries to cooperate and comply via appropriate mechanisms. The visa regime definitely does not suffice and we should explore other options in other areas, including in the field of economy.”

 

During the discussion on the proposal concerning the European asylum agency, Minister Poklukar pointed out that there must remain a clear demarcation line between what tasks constitute the agency’s tasks and what areas remain under the authority of Member States. “The decision process in concrete procedures must remain a sovereign right of Member States. From the viewpoint of our constitutional order, the conduct of the administrative parts of asylum procedures is out of the question. However, the agency could take on a great deal of work when it comes to preparation work such as interviews, fingerprinting and other procedural acts. We should organise pools of experts specialised in these specific segments of procedures.”

 

As regards migration, the ministers and the representatives of Western Balkan states noted the information on the current situation in WB states and the measures undertaken to handle the migration pressure. They also took note of the drawbacks, in particular as regards the lack of personnel, financial and material resources. Minister Poklukar stressed that over 8,000 illegal border crossings were reported in Slovenia in 2018, at a weekly rate of 100 to 150 illegal entries, and over 2500 applications for international protection have been received. Both figures are four times higher when compared to previous years. A great majority of migrants enter in an organised way, assisted by criminal groups engaged in people smuggling. This has become top business in our region, and our biggest challenge,” stressed the Minister. He also pointed out that, for security reasons in particular, no country can afford an uncontrollable flow of people travelling across its borders. In the end, the Minister mentioned the arrangements agreed upon by chief police officers of the region, who gathered in Slovenia earlier this year and specified a range of operational measures, including enhanced and current exchange of information on illegal migrants, asylum seekers and persons of operational interest to the police, common measures to address the most burdened sections of the borders and the implementation of agreements, including those on return and readmission. The Minister stressed that Slovenia will continue to support these countries as he also encouraged his colleagues from other states, representatives of EU agencies and the European Commission to do the same.

 

On the sidelines of the meeting, Minister Poklular held several bilateral meetings. Among others, he met with the Slovak interior minister Denisa Sakova and the Polish interior minister Joachim Brudziński and invited both of them to Slovenia. The Minister also met the Secretary General of the Austrian Ministry of the Interior, Peter Goldgruber, the Romanian State Secretary Gheorghe Nucu Marin, and the Croatian State Secretary Žarko Katić.

 

In the light of the Republic of Slovenia’s chairmanship of the Salzburg Forum between 1 January and 30 June 2019, the Minister presented the priorities of the Slovenian presidency term. The focus will be on witness protection, environmental crime and community policing that will focus on co-existence in multi-cultural societies.

 

The Salzburg Forum was established in 2000 on the proposal of Austria and was joined by Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.