Urgent action requested
In preparing this week’s Council Meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers (JHA) the Belgian Presidency came up with a modified proposal for a Council Directive on Family reunification. Some observers expect the JHA Council to take a decision on it in their meeting on 27 September.
Originally the European Commission tabled a proposal for this Directive in December 1999, with an amended version proposed in October 2000. Some Christian organisations (Caritas Europa, CCME, COMECE, ICMC, JRS) presented their comments on the proposal in April and in November 2000. While welcoming the Commission proposal we expressed some concerns, for example that Member States may still require a waiting period before family reunification can take place as well as the lack of a provision for fiancées to be granted the right to enter a Member State in order to found a family.
The current modified proposal falls far short of the goal of harmonizing the mechanisms of family reunification for third country nationals in the European Union. In crucial areas the recent proposal would allow the very different approaches chosen by Member States today to be maintained, such as:
· The proposal would allow the individual Member States to continue their current practice of separately defining the age of minors who are permitted reunification with their parents. Although legislation in all Member States defines a minor as anyone under the age of 18, this definition does not entitle immigrant minors to re-unite with their families – currently the age of entitlement differs from 16 in one country to 18 in others. In some Member States there are discussions about lowering the age entitlement to 14 or even lower. We urge that Member States set the age of entitlement at up to 18 years of age according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989.
· The proposal would allow every Member State to define whom to include in the term “family”. As a result in one country the definition of a family could be limited to the core family (means: spouse and minor children), in another it could include ascendants and adult children if they are dependent on family members residing in the EU. Furthermore, Member States would be free to choose whether they want to include non-married partners in their interpretation of a family. Although acknowledging the need for some leeway due to the different concepts of family existing in Member States which are valid also for own citizens, Member States should be bound to treat families of third-country national in the same manner as families of citizens.
· In case Member States opt for the broader family definition, the proposal would allow Member States to set out provisions treating any “non-core” family member considerably worse than the members of the core family – this would mean: Member States might exclude them from access to the labour market; might not provide them with an independent title of residence; might demand proof of their fulfilment of specific requirements for longer than core family members. To create such different statuses runs counter to the aim of facilitating integration of third-country nationals.
Compromising on these changes as proposed by the Presidency would mean loosing the opportunity of harmonizing family reunification. Furthermore, we are profoundly concerned that this would set an example for Directives to be decided by the Council over the next year.