27th Sep 2023

EU won over to France's hard line on immigration and asylum

  • Other member states have been won over to much of France's hard line on immigration. (Photo: AFM)

EU interior ministers have thrown their weight behind French-drafted proposals that aim to give the 27-nation bloc new tools to crack down on clandestine migrants, rejecting concerns that they are erecting a wall around Europe.

"We can't leave immigration in complete disorder, it has to be organized," EU home affairs commissioner Jacques Barrot said on Monday (7 July), after a first informal meeting of 27 EU interior ministers under the French EU presidency.

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"It is necessary to have a Europe that is of course open, but a Europe with rules of the game, a Europe that remains a land of asylum, but that does that in a harmonised manner," Mr Barrot added, according to Reuters.

France, which holds the six-month EU rotating presidency for the second half of 2008, is pushing for a so-called European Pact on Immigration and Asylum - an agreement setting out common EU guidelines for how to cope with rising numbers of migrants wanting to make their home in Europe.

Brussels officials estimate that some eight million undocumented migrants are currently in the EU.

The French proposal suggests that the organisation of legal immigration be based on a state's needs and ability to welcome people. Those illegally staying in the EU could be forced to return to their home country.

Additionally, refugees seeking asylum will be to a greater extent required to apply for refugee status in advance of setting foot on European territory, although the EU claims it will also boost aid to those countries from which people tend to flee.

Finally, EU states should avoid legalising the situation of irregular immigrants by handing out residency permits en-masse. Both Italy and Spain have recently announced such general amnesties.

In the run up to Monday's ministerial meeting, Madrid was seen as most reluctant to embrace the French proposals, but changed its mind after France dropped the idea of compulsory integration contracts.

The contracts would have made it obligatory for immigrants to adopt so-called national and European values, as well as to take compulsory language lessons.

"We are satisfied. We believe that this recognises the major part of our model of immigration," Spanish interior minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba was cited as saying by AFP.

According to his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble, the EU has to "fight illegal immigration and supervise legal migration".

"I can't see any walls around Europe," the minister added.

The same message came from Luxembourg minister Luc Frieden, who said: "It's not about building a wall. Europe alone can decide who should enter. We should have drawn up a pact like this 10 years ago."

France wants the guidelines to be wrapped up by October so they can receive a final go-ahead from EU leaders meeting for their regular autumn summit.

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