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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
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

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain