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Immigration: EU sets out its views

European Parliament sets out its views on immigration

Just few days after the Justice and Home Affairs Council met in Tampere, MEPs adopted a resolution drafted by the PES, ALDE, Greens and EUL/NGL groups aiming to draft some basic lines on how the European Union should handle immigration.

Adopted by 295 votes in favour, 271 against and 14 abstentions, the text adopted regrets "the failure of the Council (...) to define a common immigration policy, instead maintaining unanimity and the consultation procedure for all matters regarding legal migration" and stresses the need for the integration of migrants into the labour market. Any comprehensive approach to immigration cannot ignore the "push factors" that lead people to leave their country, MEPs said.

MEPs "believe that the sharing of responsibilities and financial burdens between Member States must be an integral part of EU immigration policy" and call on the Commission to propose, as soon as possible, the creation of an emergency fund to finance "expert support teams" for reception at borders and tackle humanitarian crises in the Member States.

Regarding the fight against illegal immigration and management of borders, MEPs "recognise the need to adopt an equitable EU return directive" and stress that "mass regularisation of illegal immigrants is not a solution in the long term". Finally, members urge Member States to step up cooperation with FRONTEX.

Before the adoption of this joint resolution - by a small number of votes - the Chamber voted down a different resolution tabled by the EPP-ED group (234 votes in favour, 316 against and 26 abstentions). Their draft text was more critical of the process of mass regularisation, it called for "a robust return policy" and agreed on the need of helping border Member States financially.


Debate 27 September 2006

In a wide-ranging annual debate, Parliament debated the progress made in the area of freedom security and justice and immigration. MEPs touched on many issues including the growing number of illegal immigrants arriving on the EU's southern shores. Parliament also stressed the importance of moving away from unanimity in the Council on immigration and establishing co-decision powers in the near future.

Jean-Marie CAVADA (ALDE, FR), chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and author of the oral question on which the debate was based, referred to the Council's failure to agree last week to implement the passerelle clause (Article 42 of the Treaty) on justice and home affairs.

So far, Mr Cavada pointed out, the passerelle clause has never been used but "MEPs now believe the time has come", for three reasons: "to reduce the democratic deficit, to strengthen the rule of law and to make decision-making more effective". An example of the first point was the question of supplying Passenger Name Records to the US authorities, which was being dealt with no democratic accountability at all.

In fact, given these three reasons, it was hard to see how one could justify putting off the use of the passerelle. It was nevertheless important to reassure national parliaments about their role and he hoped the EP would be able to do this at a joint meeting with these parliaments on 3 and 4 October.


President-in-office of the EU Council

Finnish Minister of the Interior, Kari RAJAMÄKI representing the Council, said: "As to the area of freedom, the Council reaffirms that the protection of fundamental rights is a priority in the context of establishing an area of freedom, security and justice at the European level. All the Member States are Contracting Parties to the Convention on Human Rights, and safeguarding those principles is a constant concern in the Council’s work, even in the context of sensitive matters such as the fight against terrorism. Such values are present in all actions, both in internal action and in relations with third countries. Particular attention is being paid to issues relating to the setting up of a Fundamental Rights Agency. Examination of the proposal for a Regulation establishing a European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights is well under way, and the work is now at an important stage. The Presidency of the Council stresses that on 15 and 16 June 2006, the European Council asked for the necessary steps to be taken to ensure that the Fundamental Rights Agency is set up by 1 January 2007. Finland is making a determined effort to achieve this during its Presidency.

As to the area of justice, in developing the area of justice, effective judicial protection of all individuals must form a key element. It is with this in mind that the Treaty has already put in place the appropriate mechanisms to allow for legal redress for instance when there is doubt as to interpretation of the aspects relating to Title IV of the Treaty or the validity or interpretation of acts adopted by the Community institutions.

Regarding the area of security, the citizens of Europe justifiably expect the European Union, while guaranteeing respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, to adopt a more effective common approach to combating terrorism and organized crime, and their prevention.

Added value of internal security in the enlarged EU has been looked for with the help of closer cooperation between law enforcement authorities. As far as the Treaty of Prüm is concerned, the Presidency can announce that Finland will take steps to join this Treaty in the near future. At least eight Member States will soon have joined this Treaty and will be able to establish enhanced cooperation among themselves under Article 43 of the Treaty on European Union. As the holder of the Presidency, Finland promotes the introduction of the Treaty of Prüm into EU legislation.

The Council is continuing the discussions on the Framework Decision on procedural rights on the basis of an initiative from the Commission. At its last meeting in June 2006, the Council agreed to continue working on the basis of a Presidency compromise which, compared with the common proposal, limited the number and scope of rights covered and focused on general standards. In addition, certain Member States are in favour of a legally non-binding resolution instead of a legally binding Framework Decision. The Council also agreed that future work should include work on practical measures to enhance mutual confidence among the Member States. The discussions touch on criminal procedural law, which differs considerably between the Member States. During its six-month Presidency, Finland aims to conclude, to a great extent, the first reading of the proposal.

On racism and xenophobia, the Council has been informed that the Member States which had maintained a general reservation on the draft instrument have now lifted that reservation. The Council expects therefore that negotiations could be resumed as soon as possible.

On immigration policy, during the Finnish Presidency, the Council has aimed to engage in broad-based debate on immigration issues, both at the July Council and at the informal ministerial meeting in Tampere last week. This debate is of course occurring against the background of recent events in the Canary Islands and the Mediterranean, which demonstrate the need for commitment of all Member States. It is essential that Member States, along with EU institutions — the European Parliament, the Commission, FRONTEX and other competent bodies — act in a coordinated manner.

The EU needs to intensify its efforts to provide practical support for the Member States that bear the greatest burden due to the arrival of large numbers of illegal immigrants. The Presidency initiative on extended European solidarity, presented at the meeting in Tampere, is related to this. The initiative involves creating, in return for a significant financial contribution from the EU, a procedure for ensuring that Member States conform to the ground rules and take responsibility for illegal immigrants and asylum seekers entering their territory. The system would include inspection mechanisms for ensuring in a transparent way that Member States follow jointly agreed EU rules, and would also include the use of biometric identification as a basis for registration, and the creating of the required information systems or the improving of existing ones. The Presidency initiative will be further debated on the basis of the positive discussions at the informal meeting in Tampere.

Another key development is the Framework Programme on Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows for the period 2007-2013 and the four funds — the European Refugee Fund, the External Borders Fund, the European Return Fund and the European Fund for the Integration of Third-country Nationals — that will be established under the Programme. The Council is continuing to work towards a first-reading agreement with the European Parliament on these important instruments.

The Presidency acknowledges that the proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals is highly important in the general framework of a Common Return Policy but is also aware of the issues that have to be resolved in order to reach a compromise in a timely manner. In cooperation with the European Parliament and the Commission, the Presidency has already decided to intensify discussions with a view to concluding consideration of the proposal.

In the field of asylum, a debate on how to develop the existing EU asylum rules is expected to be launched. The Commission is due to submit a Green Paper on the future common European asylum system, and the Finnish Presidency wants to prepare that debate. This debate was also on the agenda in Tampere last week. It is the aim of the Presidency to ensure that the existing minimum standards are turned into genuine common rules, including both asylum and subsidiary protection. Practical cooperation between Member States concerning asylum should also be reinforced, and on this item a Commission proposal is expected.

The Council also expects that the Commission will shortly submit a legislative proposal concerning the extension of long-term resident status to refugees and persons enjoying subsidiary protection status. The Council advocates greater openness and transparency in the Union and improvements in the way it accounts for its actions. This is the context in which the European Council on 15 and 16 June took measures to make such acts more transparent The Commission is now expected to issue a Green Paper on transparency. The Finnish Presidency stresses the importance of transparency, and it intends to actively take forward the debate on transparency on the basis of the Green Paper.

Finally, regarding the fight against terrorism and secret detention facilities and concerning the secret detention facilities mentioned by President Bush in a speech on 6 September 2006, I would like to assure the Parliament that the Council is aware of the possible implications of the issue. During the General Affairs and External Relations Council of 15 September 2006, the Ministers reiterated their commitment to combating terrorism effectively, using all legal means and instruments available. Terrorism is itself a threat to a system of values based on the rule of law. Human rights and humanitarian standards must be maintained in combating terrorism. Terrorists must not be allowed to succeed or to violate our fundamental rights and values. The Ministers noted the intent of the United States administration to treat all detainees in accordance with the provisions of the Geneva Convention and assured that the International Committee of the Red Cross would be given access to visit prisoners. At the July Council, I considered it essential to draw up a report on secret CIA flights carrying detainees in order to create a more confidential and effective basis for cooperation in security issues. The Ministers noted that they would continue their dialogue with the United States, focusing on safeguarding human rights in the fight against terrorism."


European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security

Commissioner Franco FRATTINI was pleased with the work being done by the Finnish Presidency. He also stressed the importance of implementation of the Hague programme.

On the subject of combating terrorism effectively, he said this would require a range of measures but the balance between security and individual rights must be preserved.

On immigration, the Commission was in favour of a comprehensive approach covering justice and home affairs issues, regional policy, external relations, and legal and illegal immigration. With illegal immigration currently coming chiefly from Africa, the EU's southern Member States must be given help when needed, in the name of Community solidarity. The budget of Frontex, the EU's Warsaw-based external security agency, should be increased.

At the Tampere meeting of the Council last week, said Mr Frattini, he had proposed a range of short-term measures including the creation of an operational command centre in the Mediterranean, a European surveillance system to link up national systems and the provision of equipment to Member States which need assistance.

He stressed repeatedly the need for "European solidarity" and the "sharing of burdens" on illegal immigration. He also spoke of the need to "tackle the root causes" by integrating migration into external and development policy. However, the Commission would support Member States who wished to return illegal migrants, while nevertheless respecting human dignity.

It must not be forgotten, however, that Europe needed some immigrants, especially highly-skilled ones, and he referred to the idea of a European Green Card. At the same time, Europe must avoid draining talent from poorer countries and ensure that more effort was made to integrate immigrants.

Lastly, he stressed the benefits of using the passerelle, which he said would mean an EU policy which was more efficient and had greater democratic accountability. Above all, the public wanted "more Europe" in this area. Surely, he concluded, "we can't accept that civil society goes faster than our policies".


Political group speakers

Speaking for the EPP-ED group, Ewa KLAMT (DE) stressed the need for greater involvement of the Member States and said a European policy was not a panacea: there were national, regional and local specificities. She also argued that if Member States decided on large-scale amnesties of illegal immigrants, they should not be surprised to find they then received further influxes of immigrants and they should not then turn to the EU for help.

Martin SCHULTZ (DE), for the Socialists, deplored the lack of progress on JHA issues, saying it had been hoped that many of these areas would come under codecision by 2004. He understood the Member States were reluctant to surrender sovereignty but they must weigh up the pros and cons of having a common policy.

On behalf of the Liberals, Graham WATSON (UK) also voiced disappointment at the lack of progress on JHA. Looking back to the last Finnish presidency, he described the period "from Tampere to Tampere" as "seven lean years". He saluted the Finnish presidency and Mr Frattini for "trying to coax and cajole the Member States forward" and pointed out that, unless we have the passerelle clause, "we can have no credible policy on justice and home affairs". In fact, like the Commissioner, he believed politicians were lagging "behind public opinion", as the public wanted more European cooperation on JHA.

Monica FRASSONI (Greens/EFA, IT) said that her group had always been in favour of co-decision rights for the European Parliament in the field of immigration policy. Ms Frassoni questioned Commissioner Frattini's use of the word "solidarity" when the EU was turning people back. She stressed that Europe needed immigrants, and not only low-skulled immigrants, stating that immigrant university professors and electricians, among others, could not find work in Europe as their qualifications were not recognised. Ms Frassoni also questioned the agreements with third countries on the return of illegal immigrants, stating that France, Spain and Italy, had been negotiating "in secret" to avoid any human rights guarantees.

Giusto CATANIA (GUE/NGL, IT) said that the recent Tampere summit had been a failure. Europe had to stop mixing the fight against terrorism and immigration. The EU, he said, should also stop using the term "invasion" as only 15 per cent of immigrants came across the sea from northern Africa. He did not understand what Frontex (EU external borders agency) was doing to stop lives being lost. He called on the Commission to erect a monument to those people who had died trying to reach the EU.

Romano Maria LA RUSSA (UEN, IT) said that the EU needed a common immigration policy and was pleased at the recent progress made by EU leaders, welcoming in particular the unfreezing of funds for developing countries. All EU Member States, he said, were challenged by immigration and not just those in the South. He said that Frontex's budget and staffing should be increased.

Johannes BLOKLAND (IND/DEM, NL) said that the recent Tampere summit had shown that Europe was at "sixes and sevens" on immigration. A solution was needed at EU level, individual Member States could not address the situation alone. Europe needed to secure its external borders. He also criticised Spain for the recent "unilateral" amnesty for immigrants. He also wanted to know in which countries the CIA "secret prisons" had been established.

Jean-Marie LE PEN (NI, FR) criticised Spain and Italy for their decision to "legalise" immigrants. He said that the current Schengen system was particularly dangerous and should be abrogated as it allowed immigrants to travel to different Member States to try to claim social security. France, he said, should not give up its veto on immigration policy. France needed to protect its borders and if immigration could not be stopped at source, it would destabilise and ultimately sink Europe. Europe, should, he said, follow the recent Swiss model on immigration.


British and Irish speakers

Nigel FARAGE (IND/DEM, UK) said that it was absolutely essential for a nation to have control of its borders. The UK, he pointed out, was fortunate enough to be island and therefore control was easier. Immigration should not, he said, be dealt with at EU level. Too often the debate had focussed on immigration from third countries rather than intra-EU immigration. With the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, this could lead to a huge migratory flow within the EU he said. He questioned why President Barroso wanted the new Romanian Commissioner to be responsible for immigration. The EU institutions were ignoring public opinion on the issue of immigration.

Timothy KIRKHOPE (EPP-ED, UK) said that many of the issues and the personalities had remained the same, although what he called "pragmatic inactivity" should not always be regarded as a bad thing. He stressed that Member States had very different legal traditions and the UK's civil law system developed over some 800 years had very successful, the UK had no tradition of the Napoleonic code. The so-called Cassis de Dijon case had been instrumental and an indication that mutual recognition was the key principal in the internal market and not "blanket harmonisation." This, he said, should also be the case for co-operation in the field of criminal and civil law.

Sarah LUDFORD (ALDE, UK) said that it was a red-herring to believe that the EU could not manage an effective immigration policy without the Constitution. The German government had to take responsibility for blocking a common EU policy. Many Member States, she said, had still not implemented the five-year old anti-terrorism laws and four-year old race-hate laws. Baroness Ludford also criticised Member State governments for not being able to come up with a formal response to the admission of secret CIA prisons. The EU had been ineffective and it was a betrayal of nearly half a billion people.


Council response to the debate

Finnish interior minister, Mr Rajamäki said that it was important for the EU to support the "host" countries where immigrants came from as well as taking into account the "human cost" of illegal immigration. Member States had to shoulder the responsibility together. A system had to be created to deal with both legal and illegal immigrants and greater support should be given to the Frontex agency.

Commission response to the debate

Winding up the debate, Commissioner Frattini said the fact that the UK, Germany and Denmark had foiled terrorist attacks this summer underlined the need for cooperation between Member States on terrorism, which he described as "the prime threat to our democracy".

Turning to immigration - which he stressed was a separate issue from terrorism - he said this should be seen as "a challenge not a threat". It was, however, linked to development policy and he reminded the House that the Commission had proposed injecting €17 billion into the European Development Fund to boost the economies of the immigrants' countries of origin.

The EU's sea borders, particularly the Mediterranean, needed to be protected but this did not mean having a "European armada". It was an approach aimed at "saving lives, not waging war on immigrants".

The EU would have to take action further afield and he mentioned Libya, which had asked for help in monitoring its 2000 kilometre desert frontier. He also referred in this connection to the upcoming conference between the African Union and the EU, to be held in Tripoli.

On the question of solidarity, a principle mentioned by numerous speakers in the debate, Mr Frattini said this had various dimensions: first of all with the victims of human trafficking, then with the countries of north Africa, i.e. the transit countries, and then between the EU's own Member States.

However, legality was also important. If people were going to arrive illegally in Europe, there must be "penalties, a price to pay". They must expect to be returned to their home countries.

Lastly, the institutional dimension must not be overlooked. Some speakers had said the Member States must set aside national pride on these issues. In Mr Frattini's view, it was "easier to defend national pride" with "common and courageous EU policies".

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