'Fortress Europe' fear over new visa proposals: Restrictions on 128 countries 'arbitrary and racist'

SWEEPING new immigration restrictions being proposed by the European Commission will bring the concept of 'fortress Europe' a step closer, Opposition MPs and pressure groups claimed yesterday.

Commission papers seen by the Independent reveal 'a negative list' of 128 countries whose nationals will require visas before crossing Europe's borders - including those from 30 Commonwealth countries not currently subject to visa requirements. Critics argue the list is arbitrary and founded on racist standards.

Further, the commission plan allows member states to impose further visa restrictions on other individual countries not included on its list.

However, once across the European frontier, the visitor would then have free movement between community countries, doing away with the need for multiple visas.

Graham Allen, Labour's immigration spokesman, supported free movement in Europe but said 'the way in which this will operate is likely to be capricious - discriminating particularly against those from Asia, the Indian sub-continent and Africa'.

The commission says countries have been classified according to their political and economic situation and according to their relations with the community.

But immigration welfare groups claim compilation has been 'illogical'.

For example, Jamaicans will not need visas, but those from other Caribbean islands like Barbados and the Bahamas will.

Turkey, which is seeking to join the community, is listed alongside countries with both high and low income levels, both stable and unstable governments, and both strong historical links with community members or few links.

'This list appears to be an amalgam of the prejudices and narrow-mindedness which exists in each of the mother states,' Don Flynn, European projects worker for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said.

'Until the logic behind the selection of these countries is explained there is bound to be a high level of suspicion that arbitrary or, given the high proportion of black and Asian countries, racist standards have influenced the selection of the negative list,' he said.

The proposals, which will now go to the European Parliament for consultation and then pass to the Council of Ministers for a final decision, are seen as essential to its plans for a convention governing controls on all external frontiers.

But there is no provision for their impact to be debated, altered or amended by the UK Parliament.

Mr Allen said he would be writing to the Home Secretary seeking debate. 'Without such democratic scrutiny we will see the creation of fortress Europe by the back door,' he said.

The main concerns are that the imposition of visas on countries not previously subject to them will lead to an increase in numbers refused permission to visit family or friends; that the three-month limit on a visit is too short - currently visitors to the UK can stay six months; that there appears to be no standard procedures governing the granting of visas; and a refusal by one country will exclude visits to others.