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Migration statistics update: The impact of COVID-19

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photo: IOM/Amanda Nero

Newly available EU data on asylum and irregular border crossings in the first 10 months of 2020 shows the impact of the pandemic on migration to the EU. The EU as a whole registered a 33% year-on-year decrease in asylum applications and a 6-year low in irregular border crossings. However, the impact was not a uniform decrease: several local communities received unexpected large numbers of arrivals, and the overall number of arrivals has continued recovering after a large drop around April.

Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Solidarity has taken on a whole new meaning in the unprecedented actions taken by the European Union to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. That same solidarity now needs to be translated into the field of migration management as well.  We can only manage migration well if we do it together – whether migration is high or low. It is high time for an agreement on our proposals for a European migration and asylum policy.”

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said: “The pandemic had a significant impact on migration and on migrants themselves who often played a vital role in the EU’s response to COVID-19, while also facing disproportionate risks. While we negotiate the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, Member States need to continue upgrading and reforming their migration management systems. With low arrivals meaning less work for asylum systems, now is a great time to agree on a fair, efficient and resilient way to take responsibility together.”

Updated data on population changes overall, including legal migration which represents a large majority of migration into the EU, will be available later this year. That data is likely to show a large decrease in migration overall due to current restrictions. Data on returns in 2020 will also be available later this year, where a decrease is also anticipated. The Commission aims to provide updates every quarter.

Large decrease in asylum applications

In the first 10 months of 2020, 390,000 asylum applications (including 349,000 first time applications) were lodged in the EU, 33% less than in the same period of 2019. Member States reduced their backlogs of pending asylum cases. At the end of October 2020, the number of pending cases was 786,000, 15% less than at the end of 2019. This still means that on the EU level, the backlog represents more than a year’s worth of new applications – with significant variations between Member States. The recognition rate, or the percentage of asylum applications that resulted in a positive decision at first instance (before any appeals), including decisions granting humanitarian status, stood at 43%.

Irregular border crossings lowest in 6 years, but with significant regional variations

A 10% decrease in the number of irregular border crossings to the EU (114,300 in the period January-November 2020) was observed compared to the same period in 2019, the lowest level in the last 6 years. While there was a significant decrease in irregular arrivals in countries of first entry along the Eastern Mediterranean (-74%, 19,300), the decrease was predominantly due to low arrivals from Turkey to Greece, where the situation is likely to change depending on different factors including political and economic developments in Turkey.

Despite overall reductions, irregular arrivals via the Central Mediterranean (to Italy and Malta) increased (+154%) compared to the same period in 2019. There were over 34,100 such arrivals in 2020, compared to almost 11,500 in 2019, with the majority of people arriving in Lampedusa. With the exception of the month of March, arrivals consistently exceeded 2019 levels.

Arrivals in Spain, and in particular the Canary Islands, significantly increased (+46%, 35,800) in 2020 compared to 2019. In Spain, the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on irregular arrivals was temporary: since August 2020, the number of arrivals to Spain was consistently greater than in 2019. 

In both cases, many new arrivals originate from countries suffering from the economic downturn rather than conflict. A decline in global remittances is also likely to contribute to this trend. Until the pandemic is contained and economic recovery is underway, poor prospects of employment and healthcare in countries of origin will remain an incentive for people to come to the EU.

Crossing the Mediterranean Sea remains dangerous. Despite decreased departures in 2020, 1,754 persons were reported dead or missing compared to 2,095 persons in 2019.

Background

In September 2020, the Commission presented the New Pact on Migration and Asylum including a detailed evidence paper which relied on available statistics on migration to Europe to underpin the policy proposals. The Commission published statistics on migration to Europe which will be updated every quarter based on the latest available data from sources including: Eurostat, OECD, UNDESA, UNHCR, IOM and Frontex and EASO.

Data is collected on different schedules. Quarterly data is available on asylum, irregular migration and return, while annual updates are planned for overall population changes (April); visa, employment and worldwide refugee numbers (July); and legal migration as well as the application of ‘Dublin’ asylum rules (October). 

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Europe Future Neighbourhood – Disruptions, Recalibration, Continuity

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On 8 March 2021 International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES organizes together with partners in Vienna international conference entitled Europe Future Neighbourhood – Disruptions, Recalibration, Continuity. Co-organizers of the event are IFIMES along with Modern Diplomacy (the EU-based news platform, www.moderndiplomacy.eu), European Perspectives (the international scientific journal, www.europeanperspectives.org), Vienna School of International Studies (the oldest diplomatic school in the world, www.da-vienna.ac.at) and Culture for Peace (the Vienna-based platform for arts, culture and applied science, www.upf-cultureforpeace.org).

International conference

Europe Future Neighbourhood –

Disruptions, Recalibration, Continuity

FestSaal, Diplomatic Academy Vienna, Favoritenstraße 15a, 1040 Vienna.

Monday, 8 March 2021 from 10.00 to 18.00 h 

Information about the detailed program and registration:

E-mail: Euro-med[at]ifimes.org, Vienna[at]ifimes.org 

Live-streaming: https://www.facebook.com/DiplomaticAcademyVienna

On behalf of the organizers, the conference will be opened by Dr. Emil Brix, director of the Vienna School of International Studies(DAW) and Dr. Ernest Petrič, former President of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia and Vice-President of the IFIMES Advisory Board.

The participants will be addressed by Olivér Várhelyi, EU Commissioner European Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights (tbc), George W. Vella, President of the Republic of Malta and Ilir Meta, President of the Republic of Albania (OSCE 2020 Chairmanship country).

First panel is entitled“Revisiting and Rethinking Euro-Med: Fostering dialogue and a cooperative approach to addressing common challenges”. Moderator of this panel is Lamberto Zannier, OSCE Sec-General (2011-2017), director of Euro-Mediterranean Diplomacy and Intercultural Affairs at IFIMES. The panellists are:

–         Pascal Allizard, Senator, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice President, Special Rapporteur for Mediterranean issues

–         Gustavo Pallares, Deputy Secretary General OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

–         Monika Wohlfeld, German Chair for Peace Studies and Conflict Prevention, Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies

–         Ali Goutali, OIC Jeddah, Director

–         Ettore Greco, Executive Vice President of the IAI, Head of the Multilateralism and Global Governance programme

–         Emiliano Alessandri, Senior External Co-operation Officer, OSCE

Second Panel is entitled Rule of Law, Health to Education, Social compact, Business continuity in times of C-19 & Europe’s reindustrialisation; Cross-generational and Economic greening; Transit and energy security;”. Moderator of this panel is Lejla Mazlic, Al Jazeera. The panellists are:

–         Florian Iwinjak, UNIDO, Strategic Relations and Resource Mobilisation

–         Carlos López-Veraza Perez, Public Prosecutor, Spain

–         UNCTAD designate – II Dimension, tba

–         ILO designate – EYS Dimension, tba

–         Kamila Zarychta Romanowska, Parliamentary Litigator, EU/Poland

–         Maria Smotrytska, Ukrainian Association of Sinologists, Shanghai/Kyiv

Third Panel is entitled “Brexit and Future of cross-Atlantic relations: Decoupling or Recalibration?”. Moderator of this panel is Katrin Harvey, Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens, Vienna/Seoul. The panellists are:

–         Eva Kaili, MEP Industry, Research and Energy (AI in a Digital Age), EU/Brussels

–         Katarzyna Zysk, Deputy Director, Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies

–         Scott Younger, Intl Chancellor President University, UK/Scotland

–         Elizabeth Deheza, Head, Latin America Strategic Intelligence, London

–         Matthias E. Leitner, University of Bonn, Germany

–         Sinisa Ljepojevic, Tanjug correspondent London/Washington (aD)

–         Heather Katharine McRobie, Oxford & Bifröst University, UK/AUS/IS

The conference will end with the music programme entitled “From Culture for Peace to Culture of Peace” by Reine Hirano, MSa (cello), Tokyo, Japan, performing Tchaikovsky, Bach and Saint-Saëns live at DAW premises.

International Institute IFIMES and its co-organizers have been joined by numerous universities from Europe, Asia, Africa and America, while the media partners are four renowned European diplomatic magazines and partners from Asia.

The international conference in part of four-tier 2020-21 International Conference of the Vienna Process – Vienna (July 2020 & March 2021), Geneva (May 2021) and Barcelona (September 2021).

Vienna July 2020 – Vienna Process I after movie is available at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJHxZFaWfgM

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EU and Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement enters into force

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On 1 March 2021, the European Union-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) will enter into force. It has now been ratified by the Republic of Armenia, all EU Member States and the European Parliament. This represents an important milestone for EU-Armenia relations.

This Agreement provides a framework for the EU and Armenia to work together in a wide range of areas: strengthening democracy, the rule of law and human rights; creating more jobs and business opportunities, improving legislation, public safety, a cleaner environment, as well as better education and opportunities for research. This bilateral agenda also contributes to overall aim of the EU to deepen and strengthen its relations with the countries of its Eastern neighbourhood through the Eastern Partnership framework.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, said: “The entry into force of our Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement comes at a moment when Armenia faces significant challenges. It sends a strong signal that the EU and Armenia are committed to democratic principles and the rule of law, as well as to a wider reform agenda. Across political, economic, trade, and other sectoral areas, our Agreement aims to bring positive change to people’s lives, to overcome challenges to Armenia’s reforms agenda.”

Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, underlined that: “While these are trying times for Armenia, the European Union continues to stand by the Armenian people. The entry into force of the bilateral EU-Armenia agreement on 1 March will allow us to strengthen our work on the economy, connectivity, digitalisation and the green transformation as priority areas. These will have concrete benefits for the people and are key for socio-economic recovery and the longer-term resilience of the country. In the current turbulent days, maintaining calm and respect for democracy and constitutional order are key.”

The Agreement was signed in November 2017 and substantial parts of have been provisionally applied since 1 June 2018. Since then, the breadth and depth of the bilateral cooperation between Armenia and the European Union have advanced steadily. At the 3rd EU-Armenia Partnership Council held on 17 December 2020, the European Union and Armenia reiterated their full commitment to implementing the CEPA.

The Agreement plays an important role for the modernisation of Armenia, in particular through legislative approximation to EU norms in many sectors. This includes reforms in the rule of law and respect of human rights, particularly an independent, efficient and accountable justice system, as well as reforms aimed at enhancing the responsiveness and effectiveness of public institutions and at favouring the conditions for sustainable and inclusive development.

From the entry into force of the Agreement on 1 March, cooperation will be strengthened in those areas which to date were not subject to the provisional application of the Agreement. The European Union stands ready and looks forward to working even more closely with Armenia on the full and effective implementation of the Agreement, in our mutual interest and to the benefit of our societies and citizens.

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Explainer: New EU strategy on adaptation to climate change

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1. What is the objective of the new EU Adaptation Strategy?

The Strategy outlines a long-term vision for the EU to become a climate-resilient society, fully adapted to the unavoidable impacts of climate change by 2050. Complementing the EU’s ambitious goal to become climate neutral by mid-century, this strategy aims to reinforce the adaptive capacity of the EU and the world and minimise vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, in line with the Paris Agreement and the proposal for the European Climate Law. The new Strategy seeks to step up action across the economy and society in synergy with other Green Deal policies such as biodiversity protection and sustainable agriculture. This will be done by making adaptation smarter, swifter and more systemic, as well as stepping up international action on adaptation. This means improving our knowledge of climate impacts and adaptation solutions; stepping up adaptation planning and climate risk assessments; accelerating adaptation action; and helping to strengthen climate resilience globally. This strategy sets out a whole-economy approach, with particular consideration for those among us who are most vulnerable to guarantee that resilience is achieved in a just and fair way.

2. Why do we need a new EU Adaptation Strategy now?

Halting all greenhouse gas emissions today would still not prevent the climate change impacts that are already occurring. The severe effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our health and socio-economic wellbeing are a stark warning of the dangers of insufficient preparation. The frequency and severity of climate and weather extremes is increasing. They range from unprecedented forest fires and heatwaves to devastating droughts; and from hurricanes ravaging EU outermost regions to forests decimated by unprecedented bark beetle outbreaks in Central and Eastern Europe. Water shortages in the EU have affected economic activities as diverse as agriculture, aquaculture, tourism, power plant cooling, and cargo shipping on rivers. In the EU, economic losses from extreme weather already average over €12 billion per year.

While the 2013 EU Adaptation Strategy was positively evaluated in 2018, there is a need to deepen and to expand adaptation actions, e.g. to make data more uniform and accessible, to bridge the climate protection gap – the share of non-insured economic losses – and to scale up finance for climate adaptation in the EU and globally. The EU’s adaptive capacity needs to be reinforced in line with the Paris Agreement and the proposed European Climate Law. The strategy comes at an important moment, ahead of the COP26 in Glasgow, where adaptation to climate change will play a key role.

3. What actions are planned in the EU as part of the strategy?

The Strategy pursues three objectives and proposes a range of actions in order to meet them:

  • To make adaptation smarter – improving knowledge and availability of data, while managing the inherent uncertainty brought upon us by climate change; securing more and better data on climate-related risk and losses, and making Climate-ADAPT the authoritative European platform for adaptation knowledge.
  • To make adaptation more systemic – supporting policy development at all levels of governance, society and the economy and in all sectors by improving adaptation strategies and plans; integrating climate resilience in macro-fiscal policy, and promoting nature-based solutions for adaptation.
  • To speed up adaptation across the board – by accelerating the development and rollout of adaptation solutions; reducing climate-related risk; closing the climate protection gap , and ensuring the availability and sustainability of fresh water.

At the same time, the Commission will continue to provide guidelines, technical capacity and funding opportunities to help Member States, regions, and local administrations to develop and implement comprehensive adaptation strategies and actions. The Commission will also continue to mainstream adaptation by integrating climate change considerations into EU policies and programmes to make them climate resilient.

4. How does the Strategy integrate international action into its framework?

Our climate change adaptation ambition must match our global leadership in climate change mitigation. The Paris Agreement established the global goal on adaptation and highlighted adaptation as a key contributor to sustainable development. Adaptation is a crosscutting element in the EU and Member States’ external action, spanning development cooperation, migration, trade, agriculture and security. The EU already has a history of cooperating with other countries on climate adaptation at all levels, but the strategy brings this into a coherent framework around three actions:

  • increasing support for international climate resilience and preparedness, for example in support of the development and implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (under the Paris Agreement) in partner countries;
  • scaling up international finance to build climate resilience, for example through the EU instruments for external action and leveraging private sector investments;
  • strengthening global engagement and exchanges, learning from our international partners who have long been on the frontlines of climate change and have valuable experience that can help Europe become more climate resilient and sharing information for example from the COPERNICUS programme.

The EU and its Member States increased their overall climate finance support to third countries by 7.4% in 2019, amounting to €21.9 billion, 52% of which was spent on helping our partners adapt to climate change. In order to close the climate change adaptation financing gap, the Commission will aim to increase resources and mobilise larger scale adaptation finance, including through innovative mechanisms such as the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus, as well as making resources available through bilateral channels and through the Member States.

5. Where can I find more information on adaptation in Europe?

The adaptation strategy aims to make Climate-ADAPT the authoritative European platform for adaptation knowledge, linking it up with other relevant knowledge portals and sources and making it more accessible for citizens, local governments and other stakeholders. Already today, Climate-ADAPT provides access to reliable data on the likely impacts of climate change, their socio-economic aspects, and the costs and benefits of adaptation options. Its continued development will give decision-makers vital support, and will help policy-makers at EU, national, regional and local levels to develop informed climate change adaptation measures and policies.

Climate-ADAPT will also host the new European Climate and Health Observatory. This Observatory will boost our awareness and understanding of the growing health risks, which climate change will entail, such as heat stress, food and water safety and security threats, or the emergence and spread of infectious diseases. It will help us to better anticipate and minimise these risks, and to improve our individual and collective preparedness.

6. What will Member States need to do under the new Strategy and how will progress be measured?

Adapting to climate change is a process. Discussions on standardised indicators that accurately capture progress are ongoing at EU and international level. The strategy aims to enlarge and make more accessible a toolbox that adaptation actors can use in their work and adapt to their individual needs, be they national, regional or local administrations, SMEs or individual citizens. To help informed decisions, the strategy promotes knowledge sharing and data availability. Adaptation reporting requirements for Member States are already set out in dedicated legislative instruments, such as the Energy Union Governance Regulations. The European Climate Law will, once adopted, also set out obligations for the EU and its Member States in this respect.

7. What EU-level resources are available for adaptation?

Financial support for adaptation is made available through the European Structural and Investment Funds, the Common Agricultural Policy, the LIFE Programme, and the Recovery and Resilience Facility. The proposed Horizon Europe Mission on Adaptation to Climate Change will also leverage significant resources in the effort to make Europe climate resilient. The Commission will support the local uptake of data, digital and smart solutions related to climate adaptation. To help local authorities move from planning to action, the EU will pilot a policy support facility to assist local and regional authorities under the EU Covenant of Mayors.

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