The EU's inability to respond effectively to immigration challenges is due to the Member States' lack of commitment to a common migration policy, members of the EP Civil Liberties Committee agreed on Tuesday.
MEPs exchanged views on legal and illegal immigration issues with the Director of FRONTEX, which co-ordinates EU frontier management systems, and other invited experts. This exchange of views was to prepare two own-initiative reports, on legal and illegal immigration respectively. The challenges of managing legal immigration and combating human trafficking need to be tackled together and at EU level, said MEPs. Most speakers criticised the lack of solidarity demonstrated by Member States towards countries on the Union's external borders. Javier Moreno Sanchez, rapporteur on the policy priorities in the fight against illegal immigration, said that an "overall approach is needed: we must develop a common immigration policy".
FRONTEX lacks resources
Ilka Laitinen, Director of FRONTEX, the EU agency that co-ordinates frontier management systems, said: "the Member States are still the ones in charge of controlling the borders; that's the starting point." According to its Director, FRONTEX, with 72 staff and a €32.2 million budget for 2007, has enough resources only for ongoing operations. He explained that the organisation's capability depends on its financial means and on the willingness of national governments to act jointly.
FRONTEX is currently conducting more than 20 joint operations, including this summer's missions to the Canary Islands and to Malta. The agency "does not have enough means, but is proud of what has done far", concluded Mr Laitinen. EP Committee Chair Jean-Marie Cavada, said that the level of resources granted by the EU governments to FRONTEX shows their failure to tackle migration-related problems effectively. His deputy, Patrick Gaubert agreed and asked for more resources for the agency. Agustín Diaz De Mera stressed that Member States use FRONTEX as scapegoat to cover the shortcomings of their national immigration policies.
Legal and illegal immigration: two sides of the same coin
"Illegal and legal immigration are two sides of the same coin" said Mr Moreno Sanchez. To combat human trafficking, he proposed a comprehensive approach, combining EU development and trade policies, to create a genuine common policy. Member States have to "share the responsibilities and the burden", said the rapporteur, adding that "we need to deal with illegal immigrants in a humanitarian way. We should punish traffickers of human beings, not the victims of poverty." Claire Rodier, from the Grouope D'Information et de Soutien des Immigrés (GISTI), agreed with Mr Moreno Sanchez's approach to human trafficking. She stressed that the EU countries must ensure respect for human rights and of asylum-seekers' rights. She also voiced her worries about reception areas built in the countries of origin and of transit of illegal migrants.
On this issue "the EU is delegating to governments of third countries the control of its frontiers", she said. "Immigrants are the main cause of demographic growth in the EU", said rapporteur on the policy plan for legal immigration Lilli Gruber. According to the Commission, immigrants from third countries today make up 8.6% of the total EU population. The measures taken so far to manage legal immigration have mostly failed, said Gruber, stressing the need for a more effective communication policy on immigration issues, directed at both EU citizens and third country nationals.
Giusto Catania, recalled that, according to Commissioner Frattini, the EU needs 20 million immigrants by 2030 and proposed an EU common management of national migration quotas. If the EU is to attract high-skilled workers, then it needs clear rules, said Kees Groenendijk, Professor at the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands, commenting on the Commission's initiatives in the field of legal migration.
More specifically, according to Prof. Groenendijk, scientific workers should be granted a first residence permit of 3 to 5 years and their families should be allowed to join them. He also advocated allowing students from third countries to stay on for a further 6 to 12 months after completing their studies in an EU Member State, to enable them to look for jobs. Unfortunately, he added, the Commission's proposals do not address these problems. (EP-Press)