29th Sep 2023

Brussels to push for EU-wide rules on migrants and asylum seekers

As part of efforts to fulfil Europe's hunger for workers and alleviate the pressure of illegal migration, the European Commission is set to kick off a lengthy legislative process aimed at putting in place a common immigration policy - something the bloc has been trying to achieve since 1999.

On Tuesday (17 June), EU home affairs commissioner Jacques Barrot will table key ideas on how the 27-nation union should deal with the hundreds of thousands of non-EU nationals who enter its territory each year.

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In January 2006, the number of non-EU nationals resident in the EU reached 18.5 million, accounting for some 3.8 percent of the total EU population.

"There are no reasons to believe that immigration flows will decrease," the European Commission says.

The commission paper, seen by EUobserver, foresees three pillars for the common immigration policy - prosperity, solidarity and security - and member states will be expected to undertake specific steps in each of the areas towards foreigners.

Ageing EU population

The move comes as the EU is increasingly confronted with labour and skill shortages.

In 2007, the union's working age population came to around 235 million out of roughly 500 million EU citizens. By 2060, however, the number is expected to fall by almost 50 million - even if current flows of migrants continue.

This trend puts at risk pensions, health and social protection systems and is likely to require more public spending, the commission says.

In his paper, Commissioner Barrot calls on member states to promote "legal immigration", meaning sending out information to potential migrants so they understand the requirements and procedures for legal entry and residency in the EU.

EU capitals are encouraged to develop "national immigration profiles" providing data on the number of immigrants, their participation in national labour market and its future requirements.

In addition, this should go hand-in-hand with more investments into pro-employment measures such as trainings for immigrants, which could help matching their skills and labour markets' needs.

Illegal immigrants

The EU's executive body is also set to suggest measures aimed at strengthening the EU's external borders in order to curb illegal migration. It is estimated that there are some eight millions non-EU nationals in EU territory who do not have a permit to stay.

Among other issues, Brussels is set to push for better use of the EU's border control agency, Frontex.

It also foresees having a European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR), a system connecting all EU member states and providing them with the information needed to intercept people trying to enter Europe who are bypassing regular border checks.

In order to keep better track of who is entering and leaving the EU, checks of non-European visitors could be carried out systematically at consulates, on arrival, inside the territory and on departure.

Member states are also asked to look into the possibility of setting up an electronic authorisation to travel as well as sanctions for undeclared work and illegal employment.

Asylum seekers

Finally, the European Commission is also set to table a series of initiatives resulting in further harmonization of the bloc's 27 national asylum policies.

"The main objective is to create common level playing field so asylum seekers have the same chances to get protection as this is currently not the case," one commission official said, referring to the ocean-wide differences when it comes to recognition rates.

For example, an Iraqi refugee has a 75 percent chance of receiving an asylum seeker status in Germany, while the same person has only a two percent chance in Greece.

"There is clearly something wrong," the official said, stressing that the aim is not to harmonize recognition rates, but to guarantee that asylum procedures, including interviews, are "harmonized" and carried out in "certain way".

"We want to help those who are really refugees to come to Europe without dying at seas," the official concluded.

The commission also plans to amend the Dublin regulation, a set of criteria designed to establish which member state is responsible for examining an asylum claim. Currently, responsibility usually lies with the member state that played the greatest part in the applicant's entry into or residence on EU territory.

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