Europe agrees to support common immigration pact 2008-07-08 19:25:27   Print

    PARIS, July 8 (Xinhua) -- The 27 member states of the European Union (EU) have unanimously agreed to back the continent-wide pact on immigration and asylum drawn up by France after difficult and careful negotiations, French authorities have announced.

    The project, one of France's priorities during its six-month EU presidency, was negotiated at length and has undergone "improvements and enhancements," French Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux, who is also the chief architect behind the pact, told reporters Monday.

    The French minister, who is also in charge of important dockets such as integration, national identity and co-development, was speaking shortly after the end of an informal meeting with his counterparts in Cannes, southern France.

    The negotiations were tough, particularly with Spain, but a compromise was reached and a political agreement was sealed off during the last bilateral working meeting in Madrid on Thursday and Friday, three days before the Cannes meeting.

    During the highly-charged bilateral negotiations, Spain had insisted on leaving its stamp on the agreement. "It is important that the draft agreement incorporates the elements of the model that we have put forward," said Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba on arrival for the mini-summit.

    "The ministers gave a unanimous agreement on the principles, objectives, format and structure of the draft convention," said Hortefeux, who was addressing the final press conference franked by his German, Spanish, Czech and Swedish counterparts.

    "This agreement allows the prospect of a signature in mid-October" during the EU summit scheduled for Brussels, he said. The draft will still have to be finalized and the European Commission wants to enrich it further, EU Commissioner for Justice Jacques Barrot told the press briefing.

    The agreement is intended to harden the European policy on immigration, while at the same time putting in place rules to govern the 27 EU member states in dealing with asylum seekers.

    The project, according to its critics, borrows heavily from the so-called "selective" immigration, which is dear to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and puts an end to massive and collective regularization of illegal workers decried by French authorities.

    Henceforth, this will have to be conducted on a case-by-case basis as was the case for some 900,000 illegal immigrants, who were given citizenship by Spain in 2007, a move that caused uproar across Europe, said a Spanish diplomat.

    "We are talking about selective and concerted immigration, which takes into account the needs of countries and their capacity, based on dialogue with the countries of origin," said Hortefeux.

    The text focuses on work-oriented immigration, regulates family immigration and the advances the fight against illegal immigration by reinforcing border controls and facilitating the return, forceful or voluntary, of those who will have managed to slip through.

    The Spanish authorities have either successfully pushed for the amendment or deletion of several points that they contested, notably the integration contract and conditions it imposed on would-be immigrants, such as learning the language of the host country, according to reliable sources.

    "The language issue has transformed from a requirement for immigrants to an obligation for states," which will now be forced to help immigrants to learn the language and facilitate the integration, said the Spanish minister.

    Nevertheless, if the ministers and the governments they represent are in agreement on the need for the pact, civil society organizations across Europe, and particularly in France, are up in arms against its provisions and consequences.

    On Monday, a group of 18 activists mainly drawn from organizations defending human rights were arrested while trying to put up a banner denouncing the establishment of "Bunker Europe" at the Palais des Festivals, the place where the meeting was being held.

    A team from a Belgium-based public television channel, Deutsche Welle, which was filming the event, was on the other hand questioned briefly before being advised by the French to "head back to Belgium."

    When questioned over the incident during the press briefing, the French immigration minister declined to make any comment, but his German counterpart promised that he would "investigate the matter and do whatever is necessary."


Editor: Bi Mingxin
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