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Europe

EU Seeks Common Immigration Policy

EU proposals to attract high-skilled immigrants, unveiled Tuesday, were met with criticism at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment is rising in much of Europe.

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EU Justice Commissioner Frattini is looking at the US Greencard

Several EU member States, led by Germany and Austria, came out opposed to suggestions by the European Union's top immigration official to regulate immigration on a European basis, rather than country-by-country.

But the EU Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini urged the reluctant EU states to embrace migrants as an opportunity rather than as a threat.

'Not a threat, but a resource'

"We should encourage a positive attitude towards economic migrants," he said. "We should consider them not as a threat but as a possible resource."

Jean-Marie Le Pen

Anti-immigration parties like Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front Nationale, in France, have an increasingly strong following in Europe

Europe needs to attract legal migrants to help boost economic growth and counter the effects of an aging population, Frattini said on Tuesday. But the countries opposed to the suggestions – Germany and Austria strongly among them -- argue immigration quotas can only be decided by national governments. This principle is laid out in the new European constitution, they say.

Nevertheless, Frattini went ahead with his attempt to convince member states to at least discuss a common policy. While governments would retain their national right to set immigration quotas, the overall European approach could still be made more coherent, he said.

Seeking debate

Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, he promised an open debate with EU member states, lawmakers, citizens and industry before proposing a draft law on legal migration towards the end of 2005.

"It is decisive, in an expanded European Union, that we clarify the immigration regulations – and that we do it in the near future. Potential immigrants should know which rights and responsibilities they have, which possibilities and which limitations there are for economic migrants within the EU," he said.

Ausländer in Deutschland Fußgänger in Berlin Kreuzberg

The streets of German cities have become more multicultural

On Tuesday, Frattini presented a discussion paper, called a green book, which outlines different immigration models. Despite opposition from anti-immigration parties in various countries, one possibility consider would be a quota system like in the United States, Frattini said.

"One of the options that the commission will have to decide on is an American-style Greencard system," he said.

Need for workers

Brussels argues that legal immigration is needed to boost economic growth in Europe in the long run. Ageing populations all over Europe will not produce enough workers, Frattini said.

The European Union projects that by 2030, the EU work force will fall by 20 million, leaving a gap in skilled workers. The strategy of filling this gap with economic migrants might be hard to swallow for Europe's unemployed, with joblessness in the 25 nation block at around 10 percent. But Frattini noted that migrants "usually take jobs that no one wants, or that fill gaps in education and skills."

Illegale Zuwanderung nach Spanien

A boatload of illegal immigrants from Africa, on the coast of Spain

The commissioner also noted that by giving migrants the opportunity to legally enter the European Union, it might prevent desperate migrants from boarding ships in North Africa to reach the shores of Italy or Spain.

"Without a unified European approach, we risk having an even greater number of illegal immigrants. These people then can't be integrated, and stay on the margins of society. Personally, I would find that to be a completely unacceptable development."

While he hopes to get the reluctant Council of European Ministers to agree on a common strategy by the end of the year, Frattini said he is aware that his predecessor had failed to reach a consensus on the sensitive issue for the past five years.

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