France seeks tough EU line with new immigration pact
The new immigration draft proposes a crack down on illegal immigration, new rules for asylum seekers and force migrants to learn the language.30 May 2008
BRUSSELS - France is negotiating a pact with its European partners that would crack down on illegal immigration, introduce new rules for asylum seekers and force migrants to take language lessons.
The French immigration pact, a draft of which was obtained by AFP Thursday, notes that while "zero immigration" is a bad idea, "Europe does not have the means to welcome with dignity all those who see it as an Eldorado".
In the draft, France notes that "migratory pressures" are set to grow and warns that "it is therefore urgent that the European Council ... adopt the foundations of a real common immigration policy".
It proposes five key planks: better protect EU borders to the outside world, base legal immigration on the ability of nations to accept migrants, pool resources to evict illegals, create a common asylum policy and boost development aid to the non-EU countries that people are leaving.
On border control, the 27 EU nations would decide to "issue only biometric visas from 1 January 2011", containing data like photographs or fingerprints.
The pact, to be unveiled at a meeting of EU justice and interior ministers in Cannes, southern France on 7-8 July, would ensure that would-be immigrants are assessed on a case-by-case basis rather than given papers en masse.
Italy and Spain, notably, have given papers to some 700,000 people in recent years but France, whose President Nicolas Sarkozy is known for his tough stance on immigration, refuses to do so.
Migrants could be forced to accept an "integration contract" obliging them to learn the national language and about European values like tolerance, gender equality and the need for compulsory education.
On illegal immigration, the document notes that only one in three orders to expel such people are ever acted upon and calls for the use of "joint return flights between several member states" to send them home.
"It is essential that the rule under which a migrant without papers must leave voluntarily, or be sent back to their country of origin, be respected throughout the European territory," it said.
France calls for traffickers involved in bringing some of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in Europe to face sanctions "at least equivalent to those used for those trafficking in drugs".
Asylum policy would focus on creating "mechanisms" under which people seeking refuge in Europe would apply from their country of origin, or perhaps another point outside the bloc.
Finally, EU nations would promote development in poorer third countries that people are fleeing, and help them fight the "brain drain" inadvertently encouraged by allowing professionals and skilled workers to migrate to Europe.
One EU official involved in France's negotiations with its partners said that "the general reactions of the member states have been positive," but noted some concern over the timetable for introducing certain measures.
However negotiations with Spain have been particularly intense.
"France and Spain are exchanging documents and we will see what conclusions we come to," Madrid's representative for European affairs, Diego Lopez Garrido, told reporters in Brussels Thursday.
He raised concerns about forcing immigrants to learn the language.
"We have to be very careful with this kind of obstacle," he said.
[AFP / Expatica]