Barroso letter pleads for EU immigration 'solidarity'
07.09.06 @ 17:20
BRUSSELS - Faced with overwhelming refugee numbers on Europe's southern borders and an obvious lack of resources to tackle the problem, the European Commission president has taken the unprecedented step of writing to governments to ask them to do more to help.
President Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday (7 September) wrote to EU leaders to say that "it is of the utmost importance that all member States of the union work together in a spirit of solidarity."
He said it is a European problem that requires a European effort as member states have been slow to commit any aid to the countries most hit by the immigration waves.
Mr Barroso's request came as 900 refugees, the most ever in a 24-hour period, arrived at Spain's Canary Islands yesterday - last month the number of refugees coming to Spain from Africa exceeded the number for the whole of 2005.
Italy and Malta - both close to North Africa - are also inundated with refugees and all three countries have repeatedly been asking other member states for aid.
Last week, Spain's deputy prime minister Maria Fernandez de la Vega travelled to Finland - as current holder of the EU presidency - and Brussels to lobby for more help.
Over the summer the commission launched a €3.2 million air and sea patrol scheme in the Canaries but it has been nowhere near enough to help alleviate the problem.
In his letter; Mr Barroso said that EU efforts for Spain, in particular, must be "increased and intensified."
The inexperience of the EU's fledgling border patrol policy has already been acknowledged by experts, with the head of the European Confederation of Policy, Heinz Kiefer, last week criticising the bloc's immigration policy.
"If the EU alleges that this problem can be dealt with by sending a few additional patrol boats, this is little more than an attempt to demonstrate that it is able to act while in fact it is not," said Mr Kiefer.
He also indicated that Frontex, the EU's border agency, is not yet up to the job.
"Frontex is still in the process of establishing itself and will need more time to conclude this process. To give it the task to solve an immediate crisis situation means to impede its development."
While the commission has expressed solidarity with Spain and its efforts to fight immigration, it has also indicated that Madrid may have brought the problem upon itself when it last year put into effect an amnesty programme allowing several hundred thousand people illegally living in the country to apply for work and residency permits.
At the time Spain attracted criticism from other member states for acting unilaterally and, in effect, granting these regularised workers access to the whole of the bloc.
Writing in French daily Le Figaro on Thursday, justice commissioner Franco Frattini said mass regularisation makes it appealing for people to come to countries to live illegally waiting for the day when there might be another amnesty.
He also said that member states should be very strict with employers who employ workers on the black as they create a "pull factor" for people coming from poor countries.
Mr Barroso used the emergency situation in southern Europe to call for member states to consider changing the rules for taking decisions in this area.
At the moment, all member states have to agree unanimously. Mr Barroso said this decision-making process is "not very efficient" and urged governments to reconsider this at an informal meeting of justice ministers later this month.