With welfare systems endangered by an ageing European population and a shortage of workers in some sectors, immigration should no longer be seen as a threat, argued European and national MPs in Brussels on Thursday. Migration should be regulated at EU level, they maintained. Most speakers also voiced support for the "pact on immigration" proposed by the Council Presidency.MEPs and their counterparts from the Member States debated these issues at a two-day interparliamentary meeting organised jointly with the French National Assembly and Senate. They were split into three working parties (legal immigration, illegal immigration and asylum), with each group delivering its findings to a plenary session.
Legal immigration: assimilation or 'insertion'?
According to Claudio Fava (PES, IT), reporting for the working party on legal immigration, "immigration is not a European but a global phenomenon, so the EU must become a global partner, supporting development and democratisation processes" in the south. He said two conflicting positions had emerged during the debates: "there are those who advocate integration through assimilation and oppose the contagion of the society of the migrant's country of origin" and those who "defend the idea of 'insertion'".
Mr Fava believed the debate had made it clear that legal immigration should be seen as positive and not placed in the same category as illegal immigration. It had also shown a "need to link immigration and the law", if necessary by "creating a new status for migrants".
Illegal immigration: need for solidarity between Member States
French MP Thierry Mariana, reporting for the working party on illegal immigration, explained that "the participants at our table came essentially from southern Europe", which shows that illegal immigration "is above all a problem for the Mediterranean basin". Their debate had shown that "a joint response and solidarity are urgently needed". Europe must devise "a credible immigration policy while respecting human rights and treating all immigrants with dignity". He added that the Frontex Agency did not have sufficient resources to do its work, as Member States "do not always live up to their commitments".
Asylum: first implement the existing rules
For the working party on asylum, Swedish MP Ulf Nilsson reported that "the majority of participants agreed on the need for a common regime" in this field. However, there were differences over how far the EU should go. The first step must be "to respect human dignity and the deadlines laid down by procedures, and guarantee family reunification", as "the current directives have not been fully implemented in the Member States".
"A crucial moment"
Ndioro Ndiaye, Deputy Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), believed the immigration debate had reached "a crucial moment", as Europe has to cope with a brain drain and an ageing population. The draft directive on a Blue Card, she felt, was "a good way for the EU to join other countries such as Australia and Canada" in aiming to attract highly skilled migrants but the EU must also "innovate" and "set in train a far-reaching social reform", covering the issues of migrants' voting rights, ethical recruitment and a North-South dialogue which is "egalitarian and respects people's rights".
Simon Busuttil (EPP-ED, MT) approved of the Council's priorities but said it had generated "too many words and not enough action". "We are always formulating policies for the future but in the southern countries the situation is urgent", he added, and called for a system for transferring asylum seekers so as to ease the burden on countries of arrival, "which have to cope with the full procedure, even though the influx of immigrants is a joint responsibility".
Reassuring public opinion
Gérard Deprez (ALDE, BE), chair of the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee, believed that "the Member States' governments do not realise the scale of the challenges facing us". So far they had only conducted "policies of control, which are certainly needed but are not enough". On the Blue Card directive, he called on his colleagues from the national parliaments "to make the Member States understand that we need as effective a system as possible". Arguing that the image of a fortress Europe was nonsense, he urged national MPs "to send positive signals to public opinion" about immigration issues, as "immigration without integration will cause us more problems than it will help to solve".
Patrick Gaubert (EPP-ED, FR) believed the meeting had "put an end to the criminalisation" of immigration and that "we have heard national MPs speak about the knock-on effects of policies conducted by other countries. This is what we MEPs have been saying". He concluded "if we want to regulate and harmonise, that is all possible, if we sit round a table, the table of Europe. Then immigration will no longer be a problem but an opportunity for all".
In the chair: Hans-Gert Pöttering (EPP-ED, DE)