Commission suggests EU loyalty oath for immigrants
The EU has announced a major package of proposals aimed at harmonising member state rules on illegal immigration and the returning of failed asylum seekers.
Presenting the proposals on Thursday (1 September), EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini said that the EU needed "coherent, efficient and credible" common EU-standards immigration and asylum rules.
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In order to bring 'asylum shopping' and illegal immigration to an end, the commission called upon member states to adopt stricter common rules governing the return of illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers to their home countries.
At the moment sharp differences in national legislation encourage immigrants to move from one EU country to another to seek the safest haven.
The proposals would see a Europe-wide ban placed on any illegal immigrant convicted of terrorist acts or judged a threat to national and public security from entering a member state for a minimum of five years.
Expelling illegal immigrants
But they would also ensure that illegal immigrants could only be kept in custody for six months. Immigrants would also have the right to appeal against decisions to expel them.
The commission underlined the principle of voluntary return by establishing a general rule that a "period for departure" should normally be granted. After this period, a removal order should be issued and executed.
"People who reside illegally in Europe should be sent back to their countries of origin", Mr Frattini said, and presented figures showing that out of the 650,000 illegal immigrants who were ordered to leave last year, two-thirds of them avoided expulsion and stayed in the union.
The commissioner said that the measures were a "balanced" initiative that guaranteed illegal immigrants legal entity, while at the same time counteracting the "popular scepticism" which can feed extremist anti-immigration movements across Europe.
He underlined that the EU did not equate illegal immigration with terrorism, and that the proposed measures were not drawn up to combat terrorism, although he believed they could become useful for member states when dealing with terrorism.
Oath of allegiance
Raising concern over extremist groups and undemocratic view amongst immigrant groups across Europe, the commissioner also suggested that immigrants swear an oath "of faithfulness" to European values.
"One can get every immigrant to somehow declare they will respect national law, EU law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights," he said, and referred to a French chart that immigrants are asked to support, as a model for an EU loyalty vow.
"I personally feel it is something worth exploring at European level", he said.
Reactions to the proposals have been diverse. Eurosceptics ridiculed the idea. Mike Nattrass, deputy leader of UKIP said that the idea was absurd. "An allegiance to something with no single culture, no agreed history, no common language and packed with fraud and corruption? The EU must be joking".
Meanwhile, a coalition of NGOs, among them Amnesty International Europe, Caritas Europa, Human Rights Watch and Jesuit refugee Service Europe, expressed serious concern about the plans to expel illegal immigrants.
"Detention of irregular migrants should not be a systematic part of any common asylum policy in Europe: alternatives to detention should always be the absolute exception and last resort, and persons belonging to vulnerable categories should never be detained", the coalition announced.
A British government source told UK daily The Guardian that Britain was likely to oppose one of the key proposals yesterday - that temporary custody under immigration laws should not last longer than six months.
Of the 2,155 people detained under Immigration Act powers in Britain, 195 have been detained for six months or more. Of these, 140 are failed asylum seekers
Britain is also likely to be opposed an "oath of faithfulness". "I do not think that we would see any particular need for anything at EU level on this. We have our own citizenship system and that is how it should be", the government official said.