Justice and Home Affairs Council : Member States Agree to Give Free Legal Aid to Illegal Migrants

Article excerpt

The European Union's member states have agreed to provide free legal aid to illegal migrants in case they appeal against their own detention and deportation. However, they gave their final nod only after the European Commission sweetened the deal by saying that these costs may be covered by up to 75% from the so-called Community Return Fund.

That is the basis of the final compromise on the ultra-sensitive Return Directive(1), which was finally rubber-stamped at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg, on 5 June. Article 12(4) on legal aid was the last open issue of the controversial dossier, after the Slovenian EU Presidency otherwise brought the Union to agreement on the new harmonised rules for the treatment of illegal migrants. According to diplomats, the final deal got comfortable support of a qualified majority, even though several delegations, including Greece, Cyprus and Malta, spoke strongly against it.

The contentious article was reopened in the last two weeks. The original compromise stated that third-country nationals "shall" be given free legal aid. On 22 May, in response to concerns about costs, the article was changed to say that EU members "may" provide free legal aid. The Presidency also added a declaration inviting member states to create special funds for this.

However, the European Parliament, which will vote on the directive in a co-decision procedure in mid-June, indicated that this was unacceptable. The Presidency then linked legal aid to illegal migrants to a similar provision in the Directive 2005/85 on asylum procedures. …