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Is Europe Dragging its Feet on Immigration?

The EU's justice and home affairs commissioner has called for more to be done to find a common policy on immigration across the bloc.


The EU has been slow to meet the challenge of balancing security and the rights of immigrants.

Five years after a common European asylum and immigration policy was initiated at a summit in the Finnish city of Tampere, Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino called on his European Union colleagues to work towards a "uniform status" for admitting legal migrants for employment purposes into the union and encourage the immigration of more non-EU nationals.

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, Vitorino told the gathered officials that the approach of different member states in the area of asylum and immigration had delayed the creation of a cohesive common policy and specifically stressed the need for the EU to regulate laws on legal immigration for economic reasons.

"It is necessary to make headway in terms of economic immigration policy and the right of every member state to fix the number of immigrants," Vitorino said. "We need collaboration on a European level and must specifically concentrate on the integration of immigrants."

Vitorino added that, since the so-called Tampere program was introduced in 1999, which was intended to form a cooperative base for member states on matters such as asylum, immigration and the fight against terrorism, some progress had been made. The commissioner quoted the implementation of the European arrest warrant as an example of the fruits of Tampere's labor.

The commissioner was speaking on the day when the European Commission adopted a communication on the results of the Tampere program. A second program which will set out further plans for "an area of freedom, security and justice" is expected to be in place by the second half of 2004 despite continuing differences between states on the issues involved.

Conflicting views

The delay in formulating a common policy stems from conflicting views throughout the bloc. There is particular controversy in Germany where the Social Democrat government and conservative opposition have negotiated their own immigration law. The European Commission would require member states to take on more immigrants than the current German bill allows.

Vitorino said the negotiations needed in reaching a unanimous agreement on proposals made the resolving of the issue "complicated" and had led to less ambitious outcomes. "There have been moments of joy, but also of sorrow and intense depression," he admitted.

Human rights group criticizes EU

The record of the European Union in the area of immigration over the last five years has drawn criticism from human rights organization Amnesty International. A statement from Amnesty said that "from a human rights perspective, the picture is not positive."

"The EU has created an area that has diminished the legitimate rights of refugees, that is less secure than it should be because of the lack of human rights safeguards hampering the fight against crime, and that is free for many, but certainly not for all," the Amnesty assessment read.

UN body calls for cohesion on refugees

The United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also called on the EU to regulate a common refugee policy to guarantee that those seeking protection from certain crisis regions would be treated on an equal basis everywhere within the bloc. Jean Mouchet, the UNHCR representative in Brussels, added to the statement by telling reporters that some member states, especially the ten new countries admitted at the start of May, urgently needed help to improve their asylum systems.

One particular area in which the European Union was accused of compromising the rights of immigrants was the bloc's security agenda. Amnesty criticized the EU for shifting its focus to combating illegal immigration as part of its anti-terror initiatives at the expense of making policies to facilitate legal immigration.

The fight against terror goes on, says Vitorino

Vitorino countered the criticism by pledging that the fight against terrorism would remain among the union's priorities. He added that the EU would also continue to cooperate in future to shore up the bloc's external frontiers in the east to prevent unlawful immigration.

But he warned Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Austria, who want to form a pilot group to increase the fight against terrorism and unlawful immigration, not to consider separatist police actions outside the European Union. He added that any initiative to increase security must be done so as part of a common policy and with the full involvement of all EU member states.

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