EU Ministers Reach Agreement on Immigration Pact

Reading audio

07 July 2008

European Union ministers reached broad agreement on a commonimmigration and asylum policy during a meeting in France. Lisa Bryantreports for VOA that France, which holds the rotating EU presidency,wants the proposal to be formally adopted in October.

Authoredby the French government, the proposed immigration and asylumguidelines aim to set common European standards for legal and illegalimmigrants. They would toughen policies against illegal immigration -for example, making sure those caught are expelled while basing legalimmigration criteria on the needs of individual European Union states.  

France also wants to establish common European asylum policies.

Anumber of European interior and justice ministers meeting in the resortcity Cannes hailed the French proposals, with Greece's interiorminister saying he hoped it would be finalized by the end of France'sEU presidency in December. The Interior minister of Spain, which hasvoiced reservations about parts of the French proposals, said he was"satisfied."

The proposed guidelines have been amended to takeinto account European concerns. French calls for European nations toreject mass regularization of illegal immigrants, which Italy andSpain have done in recent years, has been watered down, as has a Frenchdemand that immigrants sign a so-called "integration contract."

Butimmigrant rights groups like CIMADE are critical of the immigrationpact. Sonia Lokku, the head of the non-governmental organization'sinternational cooperation department, says the proposals are based moreon European security concerns than on human rights or Europe's economicneeds.

"Europe needs immigration a lot," she said. "It has beenmade clear for geographic reasons but also for economic reasons. Thereare lots of reasons for a country such as Spain, for instance, to havemass regularizations. Because they realize that migrants contribute alot to the economy once they are at the peak of their growth.  

"And oncethey are regularized and once they become documented migrants they alsopay taxes, they contribute to the social security system, to thepension system and so on. So it is really a win-win situation," she continued.

Inrecent years, a number of EU countries have been cracking down onillegal aliens, alarmed by the tens of thousands of would-be immigrantsarriving on their shores each year. At the same time, immigrant rightsgroups like CIMADE argue that an aging Europe will need more immigrantsin its labor force in the future.