• Mr Buttiglione is not yet officially a member of the new team, but is already making his views clear (Photo: European Commission)

Leading MEP hits out at controversial immigration proposals

01.09.04 @ 17:42

  1. By Richard Carter

BRUSSELS - A leading MEP has hit out sharply at controversial proposals to build transit camps for potential immigrants to Europe.

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday (1 September), Graham Watson, head of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), the third-largest group in European Parliament, said that Liberals "have resisted and will continue to resist" such plans.

The proposals - originally proposed by the British and recently revived by German interior minister Otto Schily - have been supported by the incoming Commissioner for justice and home affairs, Italian right-winger Rocco Buttiglione.

Mr Buttiglione explained the proposals last week in a Reuters interview. "The camps would take in immigrants who, for example, arrive from sub-Saharan Africa, to offer them humanitarian aid and information about job possibilities in Europe".

"But they would also investigate, identify and send back those who don't meet the criteria or who would not be able to integrate", he added.

Rocky road for Rocco

However, Mr Watson promised that his group would provide tough opposition to the project, threatening, "If Mr. Buttiglione chooses the road of confrontation he can expect a rocky ride".

He stopped short of threatening to vote against Mr Buttiglione. The EU rules state that the European Parliament can reject the whole Commission but not individual members.

But Liberals are set to pose some awkward questions for the incoming commissioner in the hearings beginning on 27 September.

They are set to ask Mr Buttliglione why he is making such controversial statements about his portfolio before he has been officially approved by the Parliament.

And Mr Watson stressed that the idea - which he said runs counter to the Geneva Convention on human rights - was already rejected by the European Parliament in Spring.

\"Catastrophic\" conditions

The leader of the Greens in the European Parliament, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, drew attention to the state of existing camps in Libya.

"You need to see how catastrophic the conditions are there", he said.

Hans-Gert Pöttering, head of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the largest parliamentary group, said that the focus should be on improving economic conditions in the home countries of potential immigrants to the EU.

"The problem is that the young people in these countries need jobs", he said.

Asylum applications dropping

Despite high-profile disasters involving illegal immigrants drowning off EU coastlines, statistics show that asylum claims have dropped sharply in Europe.

A report released yesterday (31 August) by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that asylum applications in traditional destinations such as France, Germany and the UK have fallen sharply whilst claims in the new EU member states have risen.

Overall, according to the UN, "The 25 European countries included in the report received 147,340 claims during the first six months of this year, a drop of 18 per cent compared to the same period last year".