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New European travel document to ease return of non-EU nationals

An EC proposal for a standard European travel document to speed up the return of non-EU nationals staying irregularly in EU member states without valid passports or identity cards was approved by Parliament on Thursday. 

A key aim for MEPs has been to strengthen the form’s security features and technical safeguards, so as to promote its acceptance by third countries. To enter into force, the new regulation still needs to be formally approved by the Council of Ministers.

Third countries are reluctant to accept the return documents provided by member states today, for reasons that include inadequate security details and varying formats, notes Parliament’s resolution approving the regulation.

The text was drafted by Jussi Halla-aho (ECR, FI), and passed by 494 votes to 112, with 50 abstentions.

European Commission figures also show that less than 40% of return decisions were enforced in 2014.

“The low enforcement-rate of return decisions seriously undermines the credibility and legitimacy of the European asylum and immigration policies in the eyes of our citizens. It also encourages abuse of the asylum systems in Europe. While a uniform form for the European travel document for the return of irregularly staying third country nationals is no magic solution, it is one step in the right direction when it comes to enforcing existing legislation and decisions”, said Mr Halla-aho.

Improved security features

The new regulation provides for a common format for the European travel document, updating a non-binding Council recommendation in 1994. To combat counterfeiting and falsification, the harmonised return forms will use the same security details, such as watermarks, as were laid down in 2002 for entry visas issued by EU countries to residents without valid travel papers.

Next steps

The draft regulation still needs to be formally approved by the Council of Ministers before it can enter into force. It will be take effect on the twentieth day following its publication in the EU Official Journal.

Note to editors:

Parliament calls on the EU to promote the use of this harmonised travel document in the context of EU readmission agreements with third countries. Member states should also seek to guarantee the recognition of the European travel document in bilateral agreements, as well as within other return-related arrangements with third countries not covered by formal agreements, says the text. MEPs note that the European travel document should help to reduce administrative and bureaucratic burdens for member states and third countries authorities and point out that a harmonised return form is necessary to restore a functioning migration policy within the EU and deter irregular migration.


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