The head of the European Union’s (EU) asylum agency has suddenly resigned in the middle of the continent’s worst migration crisis since the Second World War – and just weeks before a high profile international summit.
Robert Visser, Executive Director of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), was due to retire anyway in February, but instead told his management board he will not serve his remaining three months in charge.
His departure means that the EU could be without a representative at the Valletta Summit on migration in three weeks’ time.
Visser told Politico: “It’s a terrible shame to leave now, with all that’s happening, but we couldn’t have foreseen this five years ago.”
“His leave comes at a bad time,” added EASO board member Dirk Van den Bulck. “EASO will have to switch into higher gear to realise certain things. Someone else will have to lead this.”
The EASO now has more responsibilities than ever before, with EU leaders granting it more staff and resources as the migrant crisis escalates. It currently provides support to national governments in processing asylum seekers, and will soon be put in charge of so-called “hotspots”, one of the EU’s primary means of processing migrants.
Visser’s term was due to expire in February, although many expected him to be re-appointed for another three years. Visser said, however, that it “wasn’t ideal for him personally” to stay on.
He will instead take up a new position in the Netherlands as secretary-general of the Dutch Council of State.
A source inside the EASO said: “The coming weeks will be crucial. You will need a different EASO, one that can deploy entire teams within weeks, with the assets and resources needed to support countries under pressure.
“Everything is overshadowed by the crisis — this will be their test.”