European Commission
Commission adopts first EU strategy on voluntary return and reintegration in migration
The Commission adopted the first EU Strategy on voluntary return and reintegration, which aims to install voluntary return and reintegration as an integral part of a common EU framework for returns, a key objective under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. Within the strategy, the Commission also outlines plans to strengthen Frontex’s mandate to increase returns of asylum-seekers and migrants whose applications to stay within the EU are rejected. Low rates of voluntary returns persist across the 27 Member States at present due to fragmented systems and insufficient cross-border cooperation, including limited cooperation from third-countries. For reference, Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson stated “Only about a third of people with no right to stay in the EU return to their country of origin and of those who do, fewer than 30% do so voluntarily.” Via a stronger mandate, the aim is for Frontex to be better positioned to support Member States in all stages of the voluntary return and reintegration process, including on pre-return counselling, post-arrival support and monitoring the effectiveness of reintegration assistance. Frontex will soon appoint a Deputy Executive Director to lead a dedicated department for returns. The Question and Answer accompanying the new Strategy can be accessed here. (link)

European Commission is suing AstraZeneca for breaching vaccine contract
The European Commission has begun formal legal proceedings against AstraZeneca, after raising the matter at a meeting of EU ambassadors last week, and the majority of EU Member States voiced support for suing the company on the basis it massively under-delivered pledged coronavirus vaccine doses to the bloc. Under the contract the EU signed with AstraZeneca, the company pledged “best reasonable efforts to supply 180 million doses” of the COVID-19 vaccine to the EU in Q2 2021. But in a fiery dispute last month, the company had made clear it would only be able to deliver one-third of that quantity by the end of June – leading to the controversial threat by Commission President von der Leyen to halt vaccine exports. An EU spokesman told a news conference on Monday that “some terms of the contract have not been respected and the company has not been in a position to come up with a reliable strategy to ensure timely delivery of doses.” In response, AstraZeneca merely stated it “regrets” the Commission’s decision, that it will use strong legal means to defend itself in the case, and hopes to work constructively to deliver more vaccines in the future to the bloc. (link)

·        France: Hundreds of mourners gathered to honour Stéphanie Monfermé, a mother and local police officer in Paris who was murdered at a police station by a terrorist. (link)

·        Portugal and Spain: Portugal’s police force are on a grade 4 (moderate) terrorist alert following an Al-Qaeda group inciting lone wolf attacks on Western Europe last week. Spain’s interior ministry has also sent out a communiqué to its police forces. (link)

·        Hungary: Hungarian police have cracked down on an international vehicle theft ring, and seized 78 cars, 16 tractors and construction machinery, as well as two trucks, and identified 89 further cars sold abroad. (link)

·        Netherlands: Riot police in Amsterdam had to be deployed after huge overcrowding in the Vondelpark in the city centre and COVID-19 rules being broken during King’s Day. (link)

·        Sweden: Swedish police have warned gambling businesses are often unknowingly “at risk” of money laundering exploitation. (link)

·        UK: Heroin worth over £250,000 was seized by police in the Scottish borders, in a large operation where officers searched seven properties in Galashiels under warrant. (link)

Other news
European Parliament and Council ratify Brexit trade agreement after lengthy delays
Both the European Parliament and the Council of the EU have ratified the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which had been provisionally applying since January 1st 2021. MEPs voted in favour by a substantial majority of 660 votes to only 5 against, while 32 abstained – meaning that the Agreement will permanently enter into force on 1st May. While MEPs across the different Parliamentary groups agreed that the successful ratification of the deal brings certainty and stability, during the plenary session MEPs agreed that Brexit is a “historic mistake” – one which former EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier also stated the EU “must learn from” and German MEP David McAllister described as a “lose-lose situation.” On law enforcement and judicial cooperation, the agreement includes provisions (at pages 682 onwards) concerning, amongst other issues, exchange of DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data; transfer of passenger name record data; cooperation with Europol and Eurojust; and finally surrender and replacement arrangements for the European Arrest Warrant. (link)

11 EU states warn EU Commission and Council of the EU to keep out of employment and labour policy
11 EU countries – Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands and Sweden – have issued a “non-paper” warning the European Commission and the Council to respect Member State competences on labour, employment, pensions, education and childcare policy. The non-paper was issued ahead of the Porto Social Summit, which will focus on the Commission’s Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights, which had been issued on 4th March 2021. In particular, the non-paper indicates a sign of reluctance to grant further authority to Brussels on social policy, with the Commission having pushing for new powers in this policy field as part of the Action Plan, but also the European Health Union. It also urges that any Commission action on social policy respect the European treaty principles of proportionality and subsidiarity. (link)

Look Ahead

–        4 May: Informal meeting of the Horizontal Working Party on Drugs to discuss, among other things, the EU Action Plan on Drugs, Organised Crime (SOCTA 2021) with a presentation from Europol during the meeting. The agenda can be found here.

–        7 – 8 May: Porto Social Summit. The first day will include discussions on the implementations of the European Pillars of Social Rights. During the second day there will be a meeting of the heads of State and Government in Porto.

–        10 May: LIBE Committee Meeting. On the agenda: exchange of views on the Activities of the Frontex Scrutiny Working Group; framework for the interoperability of the Digital Green Certificate (COVID-19 travel certificate); protection of personal data by the United Kingdom; and establishing an exchange, assistance and training programme for the protection of the Euro against counterfeiting for the period 2021-2027 (the ‘Pericles IV programme’). The LIBE Committee is also voting on the Annual Report on the Functioning of the Schengen Area.


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