EU's new visa allows precious little access

Click to follow
The Independent Online
EUROPEAN governments were yesterday attacked for holding up progress on new rules on borders, policing and immigration. Padraig Flynn, the Commissioner for Interior Affairs, told a meeting of the European Commission that member states were dragging their feet because they were afraid of domestic criticism.

The Commission finally agreed the model for a new common European Union visa yesterday. The proposal is necessary because the EU has agreed to remove barriers to the movement of people across borders, and if someone is permitted to enter one country they can pass into the others. But there is still a long way to go before the EU can agree a list of countries to which the visa applies. London argues the draft list is too long and includes countries whose citizens do not need visas to visit Britain.

Progress on sensitive issues like immigration has been agonisingly slow. The Maastricht treaty created a new area of EU legislation on internal affairs, but it maintains national vetoes over virtually everything and allows the EU institutions little power to act. The result, Mr Flynn complained yesterday, is that not much has been achieved by the Council of Ministers, and the Commission has been unable to put pressure on it to act.

Mr Flynn told fellow commissioners behind closed doors that neither the enhanced political commitment of Maastricht nor the Council structures seemed to have made much impact on ministers' willingness to take decisions. He said they lacked a sense of urgency and compromise, and seemed set on making action slow to emphasise that interior affairs remained the preserve of government.

The worst cases of slow progress, Mr Flynn said, were the setting up of Europol, the new system of European police co-operation, and a new Customs Information System. Britain was singled out for criticism for resisting plans to allow the European Court of Justice to play a role in the customs system, but other countries, too, have been very slow to act and have held up progress. Mr Flynn has worked to advance the Commission's role in interior policy, despite the limitations of what the treaty allows. In particular, he has put forward proposals on immigration and asylum that won good reviews from non- governmental organisations and interior ministers. But he is frustrated by the lack of progress and it is uncertain whether he wants to carry on looking after this portfolio in the new Commission that takes office next January.

Mr Flynn believes the Commission has established its credibility on interior issues, but its hands are tied by its lack of powers and lack of cash. He is also frustrated by the resistance of member states - especially Britain - to allow either the European Court of Justice or the European Parliament to have any say on immigration matters.