Amsterdam summit: Blair forced to sacrifice powers on immigration

Tony Blair will today proclaim success in maintaining control over Britain's borders. But the Prime Minister will play down his failure to prevent the rest of Europe adopting major new powers over immigration and asylum.

To the new Labour government, as to the Conservatives, the battle to keep control over Britain borders has been one of the most crucial in the European debate.

Mr Blair can rightly argue that he has succeeded where his predecessors failed in securing legally binding guarantees that Britain's will not have to surrender its frontier checks, as part of the implementation of "border free Europe."

The deal will be presented to today as one sign that Labour's new "co- operative" approach to EU negotiation is paying off. However, weighed against his own original negotiating priorities, Mr Blair has had to pay a price for his success, and it is a price which could be a heavy one for his government to pay in the not so distant future.

Like the Conservatives, Labour originally demanded far more in the immigration debate than the right to maintain national frontier controls.

Britain was determined to stop other member states going ahead with their own plans to pool powers in areas of immigration and asylum. The main reason for the opposition was the knowledge that, as so often in the past, Britain was likely to be dragged in to the same common policies in the future.

In particular, the Government wanted to stop the new integration taking place within the so-called "first pillar", which is the hard-core of EU decision-making, and allows the European Commission, parliament and Court of Justice widespread powers.

Though Britain would have its "opt out" in these areas, the Government was strongly opposed to such a new swathe of integration and threatened to veto the move.

If other countries were determined to push ahead by pooling sovereignty in these areas Britain would have preferred it to happen only as a loose inter governmental arrangement.

However, creating an area of "freedom justice and security" was a main priority for other member states. Along with lifting internal borders the other Europeans want to put in place a common ring fence around the EU's external borders and harmonise their common internal security.

The other countries have won agreement to do this, and Britain has made no threat to veto, knowing this would be out of tune with its new Euro- friendly policy.

As a result, the new Amsterdam Treaty, to be finalised today, will lead to the far-reaching transfer to the European Union's first pillar institutions of vast powers over policies on immigration, visas, rights of third country nationals, asylum policy and reception of refugees.

Judicial co-operation on civil matters is also to become integrated. Meanwhile police cooperation is to be boosted under cooperation procedures, but may well move to the first pillar later.

Furthermore, after a transfer period of five years, decisions taken on many of the questions involved will be qualified majority vote.

Of all the elements of the new treaty the transfer of power to Brussels in these areas is by far the most significant. The new integration is not just a matter of institutional readjustment, or setting priorities for the future, it involves practical steps to formulate policy on some of the most sensitive issues.

The Government knows that if the EU's new common policies on immigration and asylum, combined with their attempts to secure greater police and justice cooperation, prove successful, Britain will probably inevitably be drawn in.

The deal over borders

What Europe will today grant to Britain on borders.

Britain is to receive a "legally binding" guarantee that it can maintain its frontier checks. There can be no threat, now or in the future, to Britain's sovereign control over its border. The guarantee will be firm enough to rule out any chance of any country challenging Britain's rights over borders in the European Court of Justice.

In addition, Britain maintains the right to make its own immigration and asylum policy and to enforce its own police and customs checks.

The Government has also won the right to "opt in" to European policies on immigration, asylum and police co-operation, should it wish to do so.

The agreement is therefore not officially described by a government spokesman as an "opt-out" but a right to "opt in."

What new power-sharing Europe's partners have agreed among themselves.

Other member states, except Ireland (which is with Britain on this) and Denmark (which also wants to keep sovereignty in this area) other member states intend to give up their sole sovereignity over immigration and asylum and allow Europe's institutions oversee a single policy.

Within a period of five years, the other member states intend to end all frontier checks between member states to create what they are calling an "area of freedom justice and security". This process has already been started by some member states under the so-called Schengen agreement.

At the same time, the countries will agree common rules on which third- country nationals should be accepted into their states as immigrants or refu-gees. They will agree on standards for treating immigrants and asylum- seekers and on "burden- sharing", whereby each state accepts it must take a fair number. The European Commission will take on new powers to issue proposals and laws in this area, and the European Court of Justice will oversee implementation.

After five years, the joint decisions will be taken by qualified majority vote, under the terms of the draft treaty text, to be finalised today.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat