Belgium hails European migration deal with Tunisia

Tunis (Belga) – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni travelled to Tunisia on Sunday to negotiate the last obstacles to a migration agreement with Tunisian President Kais Saied. In return for financial support, the Tunisian government will take measures to stop the illegal crossing of migrants.

Many migrants leave Tunisia by boat for Europe, mainly Italy. Tunisia, which is in dire economic straits and desperately needs cash, could receive more than a billion euros in aid, some of which would be used to strengthen border controls and repatriate migrants.

The deal will now be submitted to the EU member states. Belgium will ratify the agreement before it is finalised. “It is absolutely necessary to reach agreements with the countries around the European Union,” said Belgian State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor on Monday morning.

The European Commission wants to reach similar agreements with other countries around Europe. According to von der Leyen, the deal with Tunisia could serve as some kind of blueprint. But there is much criticism of the state of democracy and human rights in the North African country, as well as with regard to the authorities’ handling of sub-Saharan migrants.

De Moor says she is also concerned about the situation in Tunisia, “but nobody is interested in abandoning Tunisia.” However, the Flanders Refugee Council is less enthusiastic about the deal. “If the EU takes human rights seriously, it will not close the deal,” stated policy officer Thomas Willekens on Monday. (17 July)

EU Commission warns Austria over nature protection in Hohe Tauern National Park

Brussels (APA) – According to the European Commission, Austria is not properly implementing the Habitats Directive in the Hohe Tauern National Park in the province of Salzburg. The EU authority has therefore launched an infringement procedure, it announced on Friday. Austria has failed to take “appropriate steps” in recent years to prevent a “significant deterioration of natural habitats” and to regulate related economic activities.

The central aim of Hohe Tauern National Park, the largest protected area in the Alps, was the “preservation of a Europe-wide unique and species-rich high mountain landscape,” the statement said. It was home to “priority natural habitat types” that were threatened with extinction. Despite “well-documented evidence of a significant deterioration of natural habitats,” Austria had done nothing about the economic activities that fuelled the problem, the statement added.

According to the Brussels authority, Austria has also failed to comply with another aspect of the Habitats Directive. The requirement that any plan or project not directly related to the management of the site be assessed for its compatibility with the conservation objectives had not been properly transposed into national law, the Commission said. “Numerous types of projects are not subject to any assessment according to the Salzburg National Park Act.”

The Brussels authority has sent Austria a formal request to remedy these shortcomings. Austria has two months to respond satisfactorily to the letter of formal notice, otherwise the EU Commission may open infringement proceedings by issuing a so-called “reasoned opinion”. (14 July)

Schengen enlargement does not only depend on Bulgaria and Romania, Denkov said

Bucharest (BTA) – It is realistic for Bulgaria to join Schengen in October, Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov said after a meeting in Bucharest with his Romanian counterpart Marcel Ciolacu.

“The only problem is that not everything depends on our two countries,” Denkov said. He added that Bulgaria had to convince the Dutch and Austrian parliaments, which was a “difficult but possible task.” 

Denkov stated that work was being done against organised crime networks involved in the smuggling of migrants. He added that efforts were underway with Europol, Frontex and several countries on the EU’s eastern border, and that cooperation with Moldova was imminent. “We are discussing extending this cooperation to Turkey. The idea is to put pressure on the organisers of these groups, to interrupt the channels,” the Bulgarian Prime Minister said.

Romanian Prime Minister Ciolacu thanked the Spanish EU Presidency for its support of the extension of the border-free zone.

Meanwhile, Bulgarian Deputy Prosecutor-General Maria Pavlova said that more than 300 migrants had been detained in Bulgaria in just one day.

The General Directorate for Combating Organised Crime was monitoring 59 criminal groups with more than 250 members, said the director of the service, Yavor Serafimov.

In 2020, there were 150 cases against traffickers in the country. In 2022, there were more than 1,000. More than 1,000 offenders have been convicted, but only about 20 per cent of those found guilty have been sentenced to three years in prison. (14 July)

European Commission opens several proceedings against Germany

Brussels (dpa) – The European Commission has initiated three proceedings against Berlin, because it believes that Germany is not implementing EU law. One of the issues at stake is that there are allegedly too many obstacles in Germany to the recognition of midwives’ professional qualifications, the Commission said in Brussels on Friday.

A second case concerns ports. According to the Commission, complaints that have to be dealt with effectively in line with an EU regulation are not handled appropriately. This concerns, for example, complaints that the costs of port services such as refuelling may not be transparent at present. In the third case, the Commission said that Germany had failed to ensure that the requirements for a project on the better coordination of procedures in airspace were met.

Berlin now has two months to respond to the charges. At the end of the so-called infringement proceedings, which have now been opened, there may be an action before the European Court of Justice and a fine. As guardian of the treaties, the Commission monitors member states’ compliance with EU law. (14 July)

This is a compilation of the European coverage of enr news agencies. It is published Tuesdays and Fridays. The content is an editorial selection based on news by the respective agency.