Brussels, 22 November 2000
Asylum and immigration debate
The Commission is prepared to act as a catalyst and make a practical contribution to the Member States' efforts to construct a common asylum and immigration regime. The Commission today approved two communications, one on asylum and the other on immigration. The main aim of these two communications, presented on the initiative of Commissioner António Vitorino, (in agreement with Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou for the communication on immigration) is to launch as broad as possible a debate within the Community institutions and in civil society to give the current initiatives greater momentum. The Commission believes that the time has come to open a new chapter in the approach to the whole immigration phenomenon.
The debate on asylum and immigration should be concluded at the Brussels European Council in December 2001. The two communications are presented separately, because asylum issues are legally quite distinct from immigration. However, the Commission felt it made sense to present them at the same time because, in the day-to-day work of the national administrations, these two questions often overlap, and, more particularly, because these two types of migration have become indissociably linked in the mind of the public and in political debate.
The two communications have two common threads, which address the mandate conferred on the Commission by the Tampere European Council:
A. Emphasis is put on the fact that differences between the procedures that apply in the various Member States lead to secondary migration within the Union; this makes it more difficult to combat the criminal networks that exploit the desperation of people who migrate in search of a better life. In this respect, closer alignment and, in certain cases, harmonisation of the rules could have an immediate positive impact in all the Member States. The aim is to work towards a common asylum system which would go beyond the minimum rules which are already being discussed in the Council and Parliament.
B. Secondly, because it has been recognised that the policies pursued hitherto are no longer appropriate, these communications highlight the importance of quantifying the scale of these phenomena across Europe, so as to set them within the context of the challenges of social and employment policy in ensuring economic growth in the face of demographic projections which show an ageing European population.
Europe must avoid repeating the "zero immigration" mistakes of the past, clear proof of which can be seen in the contradictions between the restrictive laws which did nothing to halt the flow of clandestine migrants and the subsequent operations to regularise illegal immigrants. Europe must be true to its humanist traditions and guarantee that the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees will be respected. It must be steadfast and determined in the fight against all forms of crime that are directly or indirectly associated with clandestine migration flows. Lastly, it must take account of the economic factors which militate in favour of the integration of legal immigrants, who, over time, should acquire similar rights and obligations to those of European citizens.
At the same time, the Commission stresses the importance of policies to integrate immigrants, which should take the form of a kind of contract: on the one hand, society must be prepared to accept differences - which are also a source of cultural richness, and, on the other, immigrants must respect the common values of the European society of which they become a part (respect for human rights, the rules of the democratic system, equality between women and men, pluralism, etc.). The Commission believes that local communities and local authorities will play a decisive role in achieving this.
No Member State of the European Union can single-handedly meet the challenges thrown up by the increase in migration. There is genuine Community added value to be gained by increased coordination between the Member States on these questions and between immigration policies and other policies that are directly or indirectly linked to Europe's economic and social development (e.g. combating unemployment, training policy, etc.).
The Commission intends that the debate that it is launching with these communications, which must be concluded before the end of 2001, should be a central element in framing all the legislative proposals planned in the scoreboard, and hopes that it will lead to the creation of a genuine common asylum and immigration policy.
A) In particular since the tragedy at Dover, asylum and immigration have been the subject of statements by politicians and have regularly been in the headlines. However, we should not forget that Europe has been working on the issues for some time. It is a matter that the Member States wrote into the Treaty of Amsterdam. As for the Commission, it has been especially active (ever since the Treaty of Amsterdam entered into force on 1 May 1999):
B) Tampere October 1999
While the Treaty of Amsterdam requires a common asylum and immigration policy to be developed within five years, it does not say how this should be done. Hence the importance of the Tampere Summit, where the Council took up the Commission's suggestion of first adopting a working method before discussing what specific action might be taken. The Council thus asked the Commission to draw up a review table/work plan/scoreboard divided into three areas for action:
This overall approach taken at European level was a great step forward, in particular because it prevented Tampere from becoming a repressive summit confined to drawing up a list of one-off actions which, while they might have satisfied public opinion in some quarters, would not have helped us to exploit the real Community added value that we need.
C) The scoreboard
As scheduled, the Commission presented the scoreboard to the Council and the European Parliament last March - a few months after the Tampere meeting. It is a working tool clearly setting out the respective responsibilities of the Member States, the Council and the Commission. It is like a jigsaw: we want to put together a picture of a European area of freedom, security and justice and the various components of the scoreboard are the jigsaw pieces. Some pieces are already in place, others are the responsibility of the Member States and for others, it will be up to the Commission to make proposals.
What matters is that the approach is transparent and dynamic and that it can be verified at any moment by Europe's citizens, directly or via the European Parliament.
The scoreboard thus guarantees a coherent approach, ensuring that Member States do not give in to the temptation, under pressure from public opinion, to deal only with certain aspects of the wider problems, especially as regards asylum and immigration. The scoreboard will be updated regularly at the end of each Presidency.
D) Specific initiatives already proposed by the Commission
The Commission's departments started work immediately following the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam in May 1999. Initiatives to date include:
All these pieces of the jigsaw are already before the Council and today the Commission is presenting two communications, one on asylum and one on immigration.
The first sets out to determine a common asylum system including procedures and forms of protection. It is an ambitious goal but only this kind of vision will help to provide basic solutions to the problems faced by the fragmented national policies today (asylum shopping).
The second communication mutatis mutandis will cover the problem of immigration. In this connection, it should be pointed out that the Commission believes zero immigration to be, quite simply, unrealistic. This communication will require all the Member States to reflect very seriously on their current immigration policies, which are closely bound up with general policies on employment, social welfare and economic development, especially against the background of demographic developments in Europe.
Above all, the two communications are intended as a starting-point for a wider debate, based on the Tampere European Council conclusions, which should be completed in the autumn of 2001.