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EU: Candidates Bound To Face Tighter Immigration Controls

EU leaders are discussing EU immigration policy at their summit in Tampere, Finland, today and tomorrow. RFE/RL correspondent Anthony Georgieff reports from Tampere that most analysts believe the East European countries seeking admission to the European Union will have to meet strict criteria for immigration and border control.

Tampere, Finland, 15 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- One of the biggest issues facing the front-runners to EU membership is how to tighten their borders to the east without jeopardizing their bilateral relations with their neighbors.

There is little doubt that the declared desire of the EU to crack down on organized crime and illegal immigration will lead to further tightening of immigration and asylum procedures in the West. But even if changes to EU policy are proposed today, it would take time for them to be implemented. Meanwhile, Brussels is seeking to impose similar measures on the Eastern and Central European candidates for EU entry, making tighter immigration practices a condition for membership.

John Salt is a professor specializing in migration research at the London University College. He says the eastern European countries' immigration policies are being decided by the EU, even though those countries as yet have no say in EU affairs.

"The fact of the matter is that the states of central and eastern Europe are not going to be allowed to become members of the EU free movement of people system until they have demonstrated ability to properly manage their borders -- I abstain from using the word control because it implies something quite drastic -- in such a way that they become the eastern border of the EU. In order to demonstrate that they can manage their borders sufficiently well they have to adopt the same sort of policies and approaches as those of the EU members. Unfortunately, that -- as far as they are concerned -- means that they are adopting measures and types of legislation that have not been debated by their own legislatures but that have instead been agreed either by the European Union or by the members of the Council of Ministers."

Professor Salt told RFE/RL that while this approach may create new dividing lines, such lines are unavoidable.

"It seems likely that any enlargement will take place in a series of waves as some countries are ready earlier than others. And as that happens the burden of controlling or managing borders will shift in accordance with the waves of new members. So, yes, it will create new dividing lines in one sense, but what has happened is that the dividing lines have been moved rather than new ones created."

Implementing strict immigration and border control has become especially important during the past half year since the enforcing of the EU Amsterdam Treaty. That treaty moved the issues of visas, immigration, and asylum from the inter-governmental level, where it had had little effect, to the community level.

The EU is currently monitoring candidate countries and produces annual reports detailing their progress in managing their borders. Some countries have greater border problems than others.

The Czech Republic, analysts say, has some of the worst problems. More people were caught trying to illegally cross the Czech borders last year, than the borders of most other candidate countries put together. Some analysts say this is because the Czech Republic is a more desirable destination in itself than, say Bulgaria or Romania.

The EU membership candidate states will probably have to implement border controls similar to those in the EU's Schengen agreement, which provides for passport-free travel. But Denis Nihill, director of the International Organization for Migration center in Vienna, says it is unlikely that Brussels will seek to force the central and eastern European states to impose visa requirements on their eastern neighbors.

"I do not actually think that they will be required to implement a visa regime, but on the other hand the EU is working with Ukraine, and there are very positive attempts by the Ukrainian government to do their piece on what will be the EU-Ukrainian border. The best thing that can happen is that countries like Ukraine make the effort themselves because that will help them very much."