Think EU-MED

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Immigration and the European Union – Reflections on the New Pact

On October 15, EU heads of state endorsed the 'European Pact on Immigration and Asylum'. The Immigration Pact, one of the centerpieces of the French EU presidency, mandates common approaches for handling future European immigration and provides a roadmap for implementing these policies. It sets out five priorities for action: legal immigration and integration, a European asylum system, control of illegal immigration, effective border controls and development. The EU will introduce a 'Blue Card' for the purpose of attracting highly-skilled migrants from developing countries. This new work visa, which is based on the US Green Card, will come into force by mid-2010.

Since October 2007, when the Blue Card plan was first tabled, difficult bargaining was needed to reach an agreement. The member states have very diverse requirements concerning immigration. Despite the member states’ differences regarding various policy details and frameworks, there were also converging viewpoints. All member states have to tackle the demographic change, need to be competitive in the global market and most importantly have a common interest in maintaining strong external Community borders. Furthermore, Europe’s ongoing integration in many fields such as the labour market, has created the situation where member states affect one another. Europe has a mutual solidarity, and the states understand that immigration is a pan-European issue that must not be handled simply as a domestic matter.

However, the asylum policy questions this "solidarity" within the member states. While, for example, the number of asylum seekers to Central Europe is low and declining every year, hundreds of asylums are arriving at the coasts of southern Greece, southern Spain, and Malta every day. Nevertheless, the EU does not want to introduce a quota to distribute the asylum seekers in Europe, so those countries taking in large numbers of asylum-seekers will just receive money to solve this problem. On November 7, the European Commission adopted the multi-year program under the European Refugee Fund to give Malta 4.8 million Euros in assistance between 2008 and 2013. But it is unclear whether the financial solidarity will be enough.

Finally, the EU states agreed on adopting a balanced pact between regulating illegal immigrants/asylum-seekers and welcoming skilled workers. The Blue Card allows an immigrant to work just in one EU country, without having the right to move to another country for work purposes. The immigrant can not move freely within the EU, as this worker must apply for a new Blue Card when moving to another EU country. This restriction on labor mobility will make the scheme less attractive. Therefore, the Blue Card is not the right scheme to compete, for instance, with the US market for the best minds. In the US, similar market restrictions are not posed on any states, and also, there is not the disadvantage of having many different languages, as is the case in the EU.

The immigration pact is both a legitimate means of discouraging illegal immigration and enabling Europe to become more dynamic in its welcoming of highly qualified immigrants. It foresees stricter rules on the unification of immigrants' families, and also aims to make returning home easier. It will be harder for member states to grant mass amnesties for illegal migrants, like Spain did this for around 600,000 illegal immigrants in 2005.
Thus, the new immigration pact is both selective and also more controlled, with more returns of illegal immigration. So, some experts are wrong for assuming that the period of security minded policies of the European Union is over. The more than 100,000 illegal immigrants who reach the EU member states every year from the southern Mediterranean states can not easily controlled by this measure. The entire northern Mediterranean shore is a transit point for thousands of Africans refugees and migrants who are fleeing war or poverty in the Horn of Africa. Most of them arrive in Libya, where trafficking gangs transport help them for many dollars to reach Europe's coast. And all the thousands of people who reach Europe's Mediterranean shores, dead or dying of thirst, will not stop either with this EU Pact. Not to forget that immigration is not just an economic issue but also has a moral obligation. The EU can not just pick the best educated minds in order to fill a gap in the employment market and then send them home after a couple of years. This selective immigration is not only too unattractive for highly skilled people but also creates a brain drain on human resources in the developing states.
The EU pact on immigration and asylum is not a turning point in a common strategy. The "European fortress" is not only still alive, it is now the "Europe of the 27 fortresses".

• Council of the European Union: European Pact on Immigration and Asylum
• European Commission: European Refugee Fund 2008-2013 - Malta

Further information on the Blue Card Watch Eurinfo

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean" -First ministerial conference

Flag of the Union for the Mediterranean

The first Ministerial Conference of the "Barcelona Process: Union for Mediterranean" was held in Marseilles on November 3rd and 4th. The conference brought co-chaired by the French and Egyptian foreign affairs ministers, Bernard Kouchner and Ahmed Aboul Gheitheld, brought together the ministers of foreign affairs of the 43 member countries.The work programme of the Union for the Mediterranean for the year 2009 was adopted which foresees the implementation of specific, regional projects in the following six areas:

  • Civil Protection
  • De-pollution of the Mediterranean
  • Alternative Energies and Mediterranean Solar Plan
  • Higher Education and Research – Euro-Mediterranean University
  • Supporting Business
  • Maritime and Land Highways

  • Apart from the adoption of the Paris summit work programme, just few outcomes will become visible from the first Ministerial Conference. Barcelona was officially presented as the headquarters of the Secretariat of the Union and the post of secretary-general should go to a southern member. In addition, the Ministers decided that the League of Arab States should participate in all meetings of the Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean.
    Wait up! There is indeed one important decision taken. In exchange for the seat of the headquarters in Barcelona, Spain agreed that the “Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean’’
    may now just be called “Union for the Mediterranean”. In the name of all journalists, bloggers and readers: Thank you, really!