Rights boost for Europe's immigrants: Brussels proposes more help for people settling in the EU, but tougher measures against illegal entrants

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The Independent Online
RADICAL proposals on immigration and asylum would create new rights for Europe's 9 million legal immigrants while clamping down on illegal entrants, according to officials in Brussels.

The proposals are contained in a document from Padraig Flynn, Commissioner for Social Policy and Immigration. They are the first indication of how far the Maastricht treaty may allow the European Union to spread its influence into areas previously the preserve of national governments. Mr Flynn, a former Irish Justice Minister, risks controversy by tackling these issues, particularly as some member states such as Britain dispute the Commission's right to take the lead.

The document aims to accentuate the positive features of immigration, officials say. The message behind the essentially liberal plan is that 'immigration to Europe has been a positive development with substantial economic and social benefits', an official said yesterday. 'It has been an enriching process.'

Cash is available to assist in integrating immigrants, say officials. Their rights need strengthening, including measures to underpin equality, employment, housing, education and training, particularly those aged between 20 and 30. Employers and unions would be encouraged to adopt a new code of conduct on non-discrimination. These programmes would involve 'education, information and new legislation', officials say.

The rights flowing from legal residence vary across the EU and are often not recognised in other states. A Turkish worker legally resident in Germany, for instance, would have problems finding work in Britain. The ways to achieve nationality also vary throughout the EU, and the Flynn proposals would focus on using dual nationality. Speeding up the process of gaining nationality would greatly help to integrate immigrants, officials say.

Mr Flynn and his officials emphasise this aspect of his package, even though it also confronts the other side of the issue - restricting the flow of immigrants into Europe and removing those who are already here illegally. The document recommends tougher measures against illegal immigrants, with a US-style focus on punishing those who employ them.

The second aspect of the voluminous package is on immigration flows, movement of asylum-seekers and immigrants across borders. The paper focuses on admission procedures, illegal immigration and refugees, all areas already being tackled. EU ministers have been working to restrict asylum-seekers by tightening definitions, accelerating procedures and weeding out 'manifestly unfounded claims'.

The Flynn proposals, however, deal with temporary protection for people who, like some of those fleeing the war in former Yugoslavia, need shelter, protection and assistance for only a limited time. The document spells out ways of sharing the burden among EU states when one or more faces a sudden flood of those seeking asylum or temporary protection. This controversial idea was advocated by Germany - faced with massive migrant flows - but is resisted by its partners.

The third area examined by the paper deals with the pressure that causes immigration and the flow of asylum-seekers. It recommends using trade and aid agreements to improve conditions in the countries that are a source of migration, and toughening the stance on human rights with countries where government oppression creates refugees.

The paper is still being discussed between the different services of the Commission and may be put before all Commissioners next week. It would then be sent to the Council of Ministers, which groups representatives of member states, including on this issue the Home Secretary, and the European Parliament. The aim is to create a detailed action programme for legislation and


The subject matter will be controversial enough. But some member states will be deeply opposed to the Commission taking the lead. The Maastricht treaty created a common policy on Justice and Home Affairs, but measures are largely left to member states.

Many proposals will be welcomed by those working on behalf of immigrants and asylum-seekers. But they will horrify right-wing opponents of the EU, since they combine the incendiary elements of immigration and the Maastricht treaty. They put more emphasis on the rights of immigrants and asylum- seekers than previous decisions by EU governments that concentrated on creating a 'Fortress Europe'.

The Commission may be taking a generous view of its abilities under Maastricht. But Mr Flynn's officials point to existing powers in the area of social policy which enable him to take initiatives. And they point out that many of the issues raised relate to the completion of the single market.

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