The parliamentarians were taking part in a two-day debate to assess progress made by the EU in the area of freedom, security and justice. The recent mass influxes of immigrants in Malta, the Canary Islands and Lampedusa have highlighted the importance of the issue of migration in Europe. “The ministerial Euro-African Conference on Migration and Development held in July in Rabat showed that migration policy is linked to development issues; the fight against illegal migration should go hand in hand with policy in the field of integration,” said Jean-Marie Cavada (ALDE, FR), Chair of the EP Civil Liberties Committee. Stavros Lambrinidis (PES, EL) stressed the need to improve the integration of legal migrants by, for example, teaching them the language of host country, including a quota for their representatives in political parties or providing migrants with voting rights, at least in local elections.

Finnish Home Affairs Minister Kari Rajamäki agreed on the need for a “holistic approach”, involving the countries of origin and transit, to EU migration policy. He warned, however, that “the return of illegal immigrants will be one of our key tools (…) We cannot tolerate the arrival of 600,000 illegal immigrants in Europe every year”.Speaking on the return of people to their country of origin, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee in the UK House of Commons, John Denham, said we should have procedures to allow illegal immigrants a proper right to have their individual case considered, but “very great care needs to be taken: badly drafted legislation can make the removal of individuals almost impossible as each decision is subject to repeated legal and procedural challenge. Lengthy delays are harmful to the integrity of the system (…)

A refusal must lead immediately and inexorably to voluntary or forced removal. An approval to stay must automatically initiate the process of integration”. The European Parliament rapporteur on the future EU “return directive”, Manfred Weber (EPP-ED, DE), stressed the need to bring European added value to the draft return directive and suggested including in the legislation a “European return ban” which would forbid illegal immigrants who are returned to their country of origin from re-entering Europe for five years. Bernd Hemingway, regional representative for the International Organisation on Migration (IOM), said EU mechanisms which help migrants to be reintegrated in their countries of origin needed to be strengthened: “Reintegration measures have proved to be an added value to return activities,” he said.

Situation in Canary Islands

“The Canary Islands have been in the firing line this summer, the scene of one of the biggest humanitarian dramas of recent decades”, said Adán Martín Menis, president of the regional government of the Canaries. “More than 26,000 people arrived on our coasts this year; Europe cannot be indifferent to this,” he continued. “Three thousand immigrants are reckoned to have died in our waters, this means that 1 out of 10 die in the attempt.” Martín also highlighted the growing numbers of children arriving on the coast: “My region fights to give children decent living conditions, however the number of arrivals are making the situation unbearable,” he said.

Opening of the meeting

The interparliamentary meeting opened on Monday, with a programme including rules on data protection, the role of Europol, management of EU borders, judicial cooperation and the fight against terrorism, as well as immigration. Speaking at the start of the meeting, Cavada said progress at European level in the field of freedom, security and justice was not possible without the strong support of the Member States and the national parliaments. He asked whether it was justified to keep police and judicial cooperation as an intergovernmental matter and if it was reasonable to continue to accept the mutual lack of trust among Member States in that field, especially in the context of the fight with terrorism and the influx of immigrants in Europe. He called on national parliaments to show strong support for the activation of the “passerelle clause”, transferring security matters to the normal community decision making process, which would also give co-decision powers to the European Parliament. 

Cavada expressed the hope that this week’s meeting would strengthen the existing dialogue and exchange of information between the EP and the national parliaments. Sirkka-Liisa Anttila, Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Finland, also speaking in Monday’s opening session, said that genuine political will is required to deliver results in the area of freedom, security and justice. She added that reaching compromise in this field is not always easy because it concerns sensitive issues and said that Member States should be prepared to give up some of their national interests. “I hope that through dialogue you can bring more understanding and mutual confidence in your justice systems”, she told the participants. The meeting is jointly organised by the European Parliament and the Parliament of Finland. (EP Press)