EU Considers Giving More Rights to Foreigners | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 06.06.2003
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EU Considers Giving More Rights to Foreigners

The European Union's interior ministers have agreed to expand the rights enjoyed by immigrants living for more than five years in Europe, but their access to the social system and labor market could still be limited.


German Interior Minister Otto Schily is concerned about giving foreigners from other countries access to his country's social system too quickly.

In its latest effort to speed the integration of foreigners living within the European Union, the EU's 15 interior ministers on Thursday agreed at a meeting in Luxembourg that foreigners who have lived in an EU state for more than five years should have similar rights to EU citizens. The new regulation would also allow them to keep their residency permit and the rights it entails as they moved to other EU countries.

Close to 1.5 million people living in Germany would be affected by the changes. But the German government has long harbored significant reservations about the new regulations. Nonetheless, on Thursday German Interior Minister Otto Schily appeared satisfied with the result of negotiations. "That applies in particular to issues of access to social welfare benefits or questions regarding aid for further education. There the possibilities for individual state authority to make decisions will remain," said Schily.

Not fully equal

Under the compromise, foreigners with a residence permit will be able to take advantage of all German educational establishments, but they won't have the right to apply for state grants or loans to pay for their time in school.

Access to the labor market was another area of conflict. Germany was steadfastly against automatically allowing non-EU foreigners the right to work, but it was unable to sway the other states. Schily did manage to get agreement to restrict the foreigners rights to work in an EU country other than the one where they had permission. "Now we have a formulation in there that says that where we use national laws to limit access to particular job opportunities to German nationals or EU citizens, we can adapt [the regulation] according to national law," Schily explained. For example, foreigners wouldn't necessarily be allowed to work as civil servants.

Unifying standards

But the ministers failed to agree on basic norms for the status of refugees. The aim was to harmonize the standards so that waves of refugees were not concentrated on individual EU countries that offered better conditions than elsewhere.

Interior Minister Schily still had misgivings about the proposed regulations after the round of talks on Thursday. He said he was concerned that the temporary protection afforded to refugees -- during civil wars, for example -- should in no way lead to the right to collect social welfare benefits.

"If the social welfare benefits are at a level significantly higher than in France or Greece, the appeal of Germany as a destination will naturally increase. We cannot accept that -- if the ostensible harmonization is more of a deepening of differences," Schily said.

Nor were the ministers able to find a consensus on regulations for recognizing refugees. An agreement is not expected for at least six months.

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