The heat is on over EU migration plans

June 27th, 2008 - 12:47 pm ICT by IANS  

By Siegfried Mortkowitz and Ben Nimmo
Paris/Brussels, June 27 (DPA) More than 1,000 years ago, a French prime minister was hailed as the saviour of Europe for stopping a Muslim invasion of France. As Paris gets ready to take over the presidency of the European Union (EU) July 1, some politicians may well be hoping that the victory of Charles Martel - chief minister to the king of the Franks, and later crowned king himself - at the battle of Poitiers in 732 AD is an omen of things to come.

“It is imperative that the flow of migrants adapt itself to Europe’s capacity to welcome them in terms of the labour market, housing, and health, schooling and social services,” a draft proposal for a “European pact on immigration and asylum” runs.

The pact is the brainchild of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and it promises to be the most explosive issue of France’s EU reign.

Sarkozy is well known in France for his hardline approach to immigration - a stance which has enabled him to both eliminate the right-wing extremist National Front as a political power in France and position himself as a major political figure.

The son of Hungarian immigrants, he has consistently spoken out in favour of “selective immigration”, rather than “an immigration that is imposed” by facts on the ground.

That stance has already won supporters across the EU. The bloc is currently discussing plans for an EU-wide residence and work permit nicknamed the “Blue Card” - a name inspired by the US Green Card - which would be used to attract “elite migrants” with skills the EU needs, such as computer programming and engineering.

However, the draft pact also calls for controversial “integration contracts” which immigrants would have to sign, and which would bind them to learn the language of the host country and “European values” such as gender equality and tolerance.

And it insists that illegal immigrants, and those who break the rules, should be expelled from the EU, pointing out that at present only one-third of expulsion orders are carried out.

Both calls are likely to meet a fierce response from resident ethnic minorities and human-rights groups.

But they chime in perfectly with Sarkozy’s policies. He has already set annual numeric targets for deportations on both a national and regional level, despite fierce criticism from liberals.

In 2007, more than 24,000 illegals were booted out of France, just short of the target of 25,000 Sarkozy set for Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux. The number of expulsions for the first five months of 2008 rose by 80 percent to 14,660.

More fights are in store over the question of border control. The pact calls for EU-wide support for the countries which form its external border - a concept which is almost certain to provoke a row over the issue of who should pay whom how much.

The pact also calls for cooperation between the EU and the states from which most migrants come, in order to persuade potential illegal migrants to stay home and set up a system by which desirable migrants could come to the EU - and go home again - more easily.

That proposal risks provoking a row both within the EU, where member states insist that only they have the right to decide what migrants and how many they need, and with the countries of origin, who are expected to set a high price on their cooperation.

And the pact calls on EU states to give up plans for amnesties on illegal workers. That clause looks certain to meet stiff resistance from Spain, since Madrid launched just such a legalisation drive in 2005, and is hardly likely to welcome the implicit criticism.

It all adds up to an explosive package, and one which could blow up into a major row at any moment.

But Sarkozy may well have an ace up his sleeve. In early June, Hortefeux announced that over a third of expellees this year left voluntarily: four times more than a year before, and a sign that Sarkozy’s hardline stance may be paying off.

More figures along those lines would greatly strengthen his hand in negotiations with individual member states.

But with the pact handling visceral issues such as race, language and identity, the only certainty is that the debate over it is likely to be at least as hot as the summer - and to last a lot longer.

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