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Let's make a pact

Let's make a pactFrench President and current EU figurehead, Nicolas Sarkozy claimed an early boost to his country's presidency of the Union yesterday, with the conclusion of the much anticipated ‘European Pact on Immigration and Asylum.’ Of course, it was a watered down version of the document that French immigration minister, Brice Hortefeux, was peddling to Member State governments earlier in the year – and rightfully so. Spain threw a wrench in the French Presidency's plans a few days ago, when it refused to agree to an addendum on integration and a Europe-wide ban on regularisations. 

According to those who have actually seen it, (it is not public information – at least not yet) it is built around five guiding principles:

  • To better protect Europe by controlling its borders in a spirit of solidarity. The centerpiece on the operational side is the strengthening of Frontex, the European border patrol agency. A central command structure will be established, with two permanent bodies, one for the southern and the other for the eastern EU borders. The countries themselves will be responsible for the control of their part of the EU external borders, but the most exposed countries will also benefit from “solidarity on the European scale”. 
  • To organise legal migration in harmony with the capacity of each member country to receive immigrants and in a spirit of solidarity. The Commission's European ‘Blue Card’ initiative remains at the heart of these plans, while France's original plans for “integration contracts” are abandoned (instead, Member States are to encourage language instruction). The idea is to eventually give Europe a competitive position in attracting highly-skilled migrants that still flock largely to the United States and Canada (55% vs. 5% for Europe). (In a related story, German labor minister Olaf Scholz announced that his country would support controlled labor migration, after his predecessor last year proclaimed Germany would never sign up to the Commission's EU Blue Card plans)
  • To organise the selective repatriation of illegal immigrants. Long a key concern for France, the country has been the primary backer of the recently adopted Returns Directive, which regulates expulsion practices.  In addition to the Directive, the pact highlights the need for better co-operation between member states, which could use joint flights for the repatriation of illegal immigrants, improve the legal base of readmission agreements and increase the fight against human trafficking, etc. 
  • To build a Europe of asylum. The countries are expected to put in place by 2010 common guarantees on asylum and a uniform refugee status. Adding this to the Pact is little more than an additional commitment: the European Union's Hague Programme, which was adopted in 2004 already
  • To promote the development of the countries of immigration. In exchange of their commitment to finding common answers for the fight against illegal migration, the EU will offer third countries opportunities for legal migration for work or studies. Measures will also be adopted to promote the return of third country nationals to their places of origin – for the benefit of their societies (Buzzword alert: “Circular Migration”). The Pact requests that the Commission also design mechanisms to facilitate and promote the investment of immigrants’ earnings in their home countries (i.e. making better and controlled use of remittance payments). 
  • So, at the end of the day, nothing in this pact is really new. 

    For the most part, the Commission has already proposed legislation (EU Blue Card) and frameworks (Hague Programme) or, in fact, legislation has already been concluded as is the case for the Returns Directive.

    However: Because Mr. Sarkozy has done what few others have done before him in recent EU politics (bar Angela Merkel on the environment) –  namely claim ownership and assume leadership – the media is keeping a close eye not only on him as EU President, but on the commitments made by all 27 Heads of State and Government as part of this pact. In the absence of a clear legal base for Justice and Home Affairs policy (which is linked to the adoption of the Lisbon Reform Treaty), and in light of demographic and economic need, the EU needs momentum in this crucial policy area. 

    For ten years, since the initial EU Summit on immigration policy in Tampere, plans were made, legislation was written but major problems remained unadressed. Member states failed to realize the benefit of common approaches to a policy area, which by nature of the Union's open borders, could no longer be controlled unitlaterally.

    We have a new window of opportunity: Europe needs migrants economically, and Europeans are beginning to understand the benefit of controlled migration. Europeans, by and large, want the Union – not their individual national governments – to develop functional policy in this area. Now is the time to turn the end the closed-door decision-making that started in Tampere. The European Parliament, NGOs and migrant organizations have to use this new window of opportunity in their favor, to ensure that the European Union gives itself the robust, humantiarian, just, equal and functional immigration and asylum policy it needs for the 21st century and beyond. 



    Cathryn Cluver

    Cathryn Cluver is a journalist and EU analyst. Now based in Hamburg, Germany, she previously worked at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, Belgium, where she was Deputy Editor of the EU policy journal, Challenge Europe. Prior to that, she was a producer with CNN-International in Atlanta and London. Cathryn graduated from the London School of Economics with a Master's Degree in European Studies and holds a BA with honors from Brown University in International Relations.

    Areas of Focus:
    Refugees; Immigration; Europe


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