Return of migrants staying irregularly in the EU has gained center stage on the EU agenda since 2015. In September 2015, the Commission presented a Communication on an EU Action Plan on return that defined a set of immediate and mid-term measures to be taken in order to enhance the effectiveness of the EU return system. The 'Return Handbook', adopted together with the EU Action Plan, provided a set of guidelines, best practices and recommendations to the member states for returning irregular migrants. In 2017, however, in light of the unsatisfactory results achieved during the previous two years, the Commission decided to issue a renewed Action Plan on return as well as revised version of the Return Handbook.
Significant new competences in the field of return have also been granted to the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (EBCG) launched in 2016. The EBCG has been granted the power to conduct joint return operations and be involved in national return procedures, including cooperation with third countries. A goal of this new task is to ensure more ‘effective’ expulsion procedures in the EU, so that the number of return decisions of irregular immigrants better matches the enforced expulsion orders.
In parallel, cooperation with third countries has been intensified by means of a number of informal cooperation formats, such as Standard Operating Procedures and Joint Ways Forward on migration issues. According to the European Commission, enhancing cooperation by key third countries of origin requires the collective mobilization of all the incentives and leverages available at the EU level, including coordinated visa measures.