European member states are accused by migrant groups of hypocrisy over claims that new human rights laws are to be established in the Treaty on European Reform to be signed at Amsterdam next June. The treaty will do nothing to improve the rights of third-country nationals under proposals to be discussed at The Hague.
The row centres on a scheme to strengthen migrants' rights which, in effect, proposes a two-tier system. The draft plan, from a committee of experts appointed by Brussels, suggests that the new treaty would enshrine wide-ranging rights to social and legal protection for all European citizens. It adds: "Certain of these rights should benefit, in appropriate conditions, citizens of third countries."
Attempts to set up a European centre to monitor racism and xenophobia are also expected to be blocked by dispute.
Although all member states agree that monitoring racism is important, they disagree over who should have control of the centre. Britain, which insists that it backs the plan in principle, is opposing a European Commission idea to bring the centre directly under the control of EU institutions.
Today's conference has been heralded as a sign that the EU is serious about upholding new democratic freedoms to create an area of "Freedom, Justice and Security". In the light of rising unemployment and growing evidence of new neo-Nazi groups operating across borders, there is believed to be urgent need for new measures to combat racism. However, human rights bodies complain that the EU is focusing more attention on deterring immigration than on combating racism.
A new book published in Belgium has produced startling revelations about Europe's programme of mass deportation instituted in the past five years. According to the book, by journalist Chris de Stoop, deportations have risen from 30,000 in 1990 to 300,000 a year. Procedures detailed include the clandestine operation of private security firms hired by governments whose activities are accountable to nobody.
Said Cherera, president of the European Migrants Forum, believes that the war on immigration could have a backlash for 15 million third-country nationals legally living and working in the EU. "Fear of immigration is being fuelled by government action and all legal migrants, illegal migrants and refugees are seen in the same light by the majority of Europeans today," he said.
The legally resident migrants have no right to vote and very limited rights to claim benefits. Some member states say they have come under pressure to tone down earlier commitments to improve the rights of such people in view of high unemployment which has fuelled anti-immigrant feeling. Germany, which has the highest number of migrants - an estimated 7 million - is now openly called for "quotas" on foreign workers. The Finance Minister, Theo Waigel, said recently it was "grotesque" that millions of Germans were unemployed while so many foreigners were working there. Klaus Zwickel, chairman of Germany's largest union, IG Metall, this week added his voice to calls by conservative politicians for stricter limits on foreign workers.