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By K .L John


Saturday/Sunday, July 26-27, 2008.


France has just taken over presidency of the EU (European Union).  For six months, until the end of 2008, France will preside over the European Council, the main decision-making body of the EU. 


In its new role, France will set the agenda for European priorities for the rest of 2008.  As such, some 500 million citizens will be affected by the decisions she makes over the coming months, and, in theory, 30% of the world’s GDP. 


According to French President Nicolas Sarkozy: "The programme of the French Presidency aims to respond to the main concerns of Europeans, mainly with regard to energy and climate change, issues concerning immigration, agriculture and food safety, defence and security."


It is interesting to note how high a priority immigration is considered.  Right up there with security, defence and climate change. 


So guns blazing, Sarkozy set about reforming European immigration rules.  French President Nicolas Sarkozy had hoped to massively limit immigration at the European Union level primarily because "Europe does not have the means to welcome with dignity all those who see it as an El Dorado." It’s going to be a long six months. 


Brits and non-EU members may well wonder why France is even taking her domestic problems to the European Council. One word answer:  Schengen.  As the UK is not part of the area covered by the Schengen Agreements, the British government is essentially in control of who enters the UK


This is not the case in the rest of the European Union, where, once ‘in’ there are no internal borders.  Once a person is in legally in Spain, they are also permitted to live and work in France or anywhere else in the EU which might take their fancy.  This is what it means to be a European citizen.   


A draft document was produced accordingly, and the full Council of 27 Foreign and Home Office ministers from across Europe concluded discussions last week.  Focusing on managing legal immigration and combating illegal immigration, the proposals intended to stop illegal immigration amnesties. 


In 1998 alone, Greece, Italy and France herself granted 397,000, 308,000 and 152,000 people respectively the right to live and work on European shores.  More recently, Spain granted amnesties to 700,000 people in 2005


As legal migration into the EU has become increasingly difficult, illegal immigration has increased and amnesties have enabled governments to override their own rules.  

Pressure from Italy and Spain, however, watered down the original French proposal, which was also described by the Germans as ‘hardline.’


The original idea of an ‘integration contract’ with clear-cut responsibilities for immigrants has been removed. The text no longer refers to learning the adopted country’s language as a ‘requirement’ of immigration; instead EU states are expected to ‘promote’ language learning. Immigrants are, however, expected to recognise European ‘values.’


Sarko also failed to push a number of other points through. The French president wanted, for example, to create two patrolling police forces for Frontex, the European Union's border authority. 


Spanish Home Office Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba was pleased with the new draft, saying it complimented his country's policies.  Under the new rules, countries can issue amnesties, but they must also simplify procedures for deportation. The modifed pact also allows member states to rule on the status of illegal immigrants on a case-by-case basis.


"If a person has been living in the country for eight years and only speaks German, their illegal status has to end at some point," said Germany's Home Office Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. He noted that in recent years Germany has granted amnesty to about 40,000 illegal immigrants. "The majority of them should also be given access to the labor market," he said. 


As the draft agreement addressed differences in asylum decision-making across the EU, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also offered suggestions.  "We urge the EU, under the French Presidency, to take up the challenge of improving the quality of asylum decision-making across the EU,"spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis declared. 


The UNHCR felt that strengthening cooperation among Member States and creating a European Asylum Support Office were positive proposals, and expressed a readiness to help the EU meet these goals.  


While welcoming the reference to refugee resettlement, UNHCR wished to see further steps taken to increase the participation of EU member states in worldwide refugee resettlement efforts.  


The EU currently provides only around five per cent of places available worldwide for refugee resettlement.  "A 'Europe of Asylum' cannot be built without assurances of access to the European Union for persons seeking protection," Pagonis stated.  


A European Support Office will be established to assist the alignment of member states’ asylum procedures. Controversially, in the event of a "massive flood of asylum seekers" in one country, the EU states have agreed to all ‘help out’. EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot argued, ‘We need a Europe that is open, but a Europe that is open with certain rules, done in a harmonised way and well organised.’ 


The pact may be signed, but the issues are clearly far from resolved.  Oh la la!


Image: courtesy of www.radioislam.org


KL John is our Francophone expert. She is a writer and campaigner curious about international politics, trade and justice. She can be reached at kes@thenewblackmagazine.com


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