July 13, 2008

International: Sarkozy wants EU immigration pact

12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, July 5, 2008
By CLAYTON M. McCLESKEY / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News Clayton M. McCleskey is a freelance journalist based in Berlin.

PARIS – Europe is about to get tough on immigration. Or at least France hopes so.

Having taken over the rotating presidency of the European Union on Monday, France is preparing to introduce a proposed European pact on immigration next week.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy – who has taken a hard line on immigration since taking office last year – has indicated that immigration will be one of his main issues during his country's six-month presidency of the 27-member bloc.

The proposed pact will be officially presented Monday at a meeting of Europe's immigration ministers in Cannes, and the French government hopes it will be approved by the EU member states this fall.

While the details of the pact are being negotiated, one French official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the pact will focus on five areas:

• Allowing EU member states to select immigrants according to need.

• Fighting illegal – or "irregular" – immigration by stopping massive legalizations.

• Enhancing border protection.

• Unifying asylum laws.

• Building partnerships with countries of origin through repatriation projects.

The official praised the comprehensive nature of the pact, saying it was the first time such a range of approaches would be addressed in one package.

But Mr. Sarkozy's plan has been met with criticism.

"I do not think it has any effect whatsoever," said Peter Veld, general director of the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"It's theatrics," said Patrick Weil, a senior fellow at the University of Paris and the German Marshall Fund. "It's just a policy of words."

Mr. Weil said that most of Mr. Sarkozy's proposals are related to programs that already exist, adding that Mr. Sarkozy is not focused on addressing the fundamental flaws in European immigration policies, such as the lack of legal immigration procedures.

"Don't expect much from the French presidency related to immigration," said Steffen Angenendt of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

"It's not a comprehensive approach to address migration policy as a whole – which would be necessary to effectively fight irregular immigration," he said.

Under Mr. Sarkozy's leadership, France is expected to push ahead with the pact in an attempt to bring about a "harmonization" on immigration policy, a contentious issue since each EU member state is responsible for its own border.

Most controversial among Mr. Sarkozy's proposal is his emphasis on ending mass legalizations for undocumented workers, a practice viewed in some countries as a useful tool.

Mr. Sarkozy's stance has drawn protests from EU members such as Spain, where massive legalizations have been used with success, said Francisco Javier Moreno Fuentes from the Institute of Public Goods and Policy in Madrid.

Critics point out that most of the French proposals are not new. Nonetheless, the pact could still be an important step toward improved cooperation.

"It puts the issue on the table and lays out the path to be followed in the future," Mr. Moreno said.

Clayton M. McCleskey is a freelance journalist based in Berlin.

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