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EU: Greater Punch From Immigration Policy Sought

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini (file photo) (epa) The European Commission today unveiled a new strategy to tackle immigration. The strategy envisages granting immigration issues higher priority in the EU’s relations with its neighbors. The EU is keen to focus on the Mediterranean Sea, which is a major transit route into Europe. The document also raises the prospect that the EU will soon embrace legal immigration.

Brussels, 30 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission says the EU, with the support of all its member states, is on the verge of agreeing a comprehensive strategy to address both illegal and legal migration.

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini and his colleague in charge of external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, today unveiled a new strategic document that will now be discussed among EU member states.

The document focuses heavily on migration routes crossing the Mediterranean. The recent sieges of Spanish enclaves in Morocco by thousands of immigrants, and the plight of small islands such as Malta and Lampedusa in Italy, have received a lot of publicity in recent months.

Ferrero-Waldner said the new strategy has the support of transit countries such as Morocco and Libya. It should also appeal to those African countries that supply most of the migrants.

"For the first time, we have a comprehensive approach," she said. "There was never a comprehensive approach. All the EU countries want it, all the Mediterranean countries want it, and there is more and more reason also for the African countries to accept [it] and really see to it that many, many people stay in their countries, get of course assistance there, and do not go out of the countries."

"Now there is a political consensus [among] the European leadership on managing and addressing both illegal and illegal immigration. That’s the difference." -- Frattini

The commission says it aims to take "practical steps" to address the root causes of migration – poverty, unemployment, and human rights abuses. This means the EU will try to make more effective use of the billions of euros it pours into sub-Saharan Africa every year.

North African countries will receive money, equipment, and training to help them better manage the movements of migrants and refugees.

Before an EU-Mediterranean summit in Barcelona last weekend, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said future aid levels will depend on a country’s willingness to cooperate with the EU.

Ferrero-Waldner confirmed this to RFE/RL yesterday. "I can clearly [tell] you that, of course, leverage is there and we will use our leverage that is clear and I think we have made that very, very clear," she said.

However, Ferrero-Waldner suggested the EU’s focus on cooperation will be greater with its immediate neighbors, and less strict in Africa where development aid is seen as vital regardless of the political context.

In addition to aid, the EU also seeks cooperation with and among the countries on the key migration routes. Clamping down on human trafficking, and the conclusion of readmission treaties committing the signatories to taking back illegal immigrants who reached Europe by crossing their territories are among the key aims.

Human rights organizations warn that transit countries such as Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia are not prepared to handle large numbers of migrants, whose rights are often violated and who often undergo physical suffering.

The two commissioners did not address these concerns directly today. Frattini said the EU expects its partners to abide by standards prescribed by international law. He noted that the recent EU summit in Great Britain demonstrated a newfound willingness among previously largely skeptical member states to pool their resources to combat illegal immigration.

In particular, Frattini noted, there now exists an understanding that limited legal immigration could be an important instrument in alleviating the problem.

"Now there is a political consensus [among] the European leadership on managing and addressing both illegal and illegal immigration. That’s the difference. Because, in the past, member states were not ready to give coordination to the European institutions. Now, they are demanding more Europe, they are requesting European coordination, they are deciding to create, for example, a European fund for immigration, that is very good news. They are deciding to support the idea of networking patrol activities [on the Mediterranean]. [That] never happened in the past," Frattini said.

Currently, there is no indication of how many legal immigrants the EU is prepared to admit or how they would be chosen.

The first tangible results of the new EU migration drive are expected to be the creation of a high-tech surveillance system on the Mediterranean employing satellite technology, and a jointly managed and financed coastal patrol network. This work will be run by the recently established EU border-management agency, located in Poland.