EC Plans Migrant Policy

Unity prospects drive move to harmonize stance on immigrants

AT the European Community summit in December 1989, EC leaders asked for an inventory of member states' immigration policies, and for a study of immigrant integration.It was the first timid step toward a coordinated approach to immigration among the organization's 12 members. Eighteen months later at the June summit in Luxembourg, the number of European leaders citing immigration as one of the Community's major issues - and calling for greater harmonization of immigration policies - suggested a mounting preoccupation with the issue. Referring to the "open floodgates" facing the Community from "East-to-West and South-to-North" migration, British Prime Minister John Major warned, "We cannot be open to all comers." Legal immigration to the EC alone is estimated to top 400,000 annually. "We need stronger perimeter fencing against the economic migrancy," Mr. Major said, calling for better coordination among the police forces of the 12 EC members. Citing concerns over a surge in Europe's xenophobic far-right movements, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl recommended creating a "Europol," modeled on the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation. Its responsibilities would include coordinating control of illegal immigration. EC Commission President Jacques Delors also stressed the immigration issue when he met with the 12 heads of state, saying the Community would fail in its goal of lifting internal borders unless differences in immigration policies were narrowed. Mr. Delors says action is essential this year. Despite mounting concern, however, a common integration policy is still far off. "The EC countries won't allow their migration policies to be dictated by Brussels," says Jean-Pierre Garson, a migration expert at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. "They want to maintain the flexibility to respond to changes in national labor markets and to cultural considerations," he says. Still, some convergence of policies seems inevitable as the EC moves toward economic and political integration. "The member states realize it's no longer possible for each one of them to continue on a separate immigration policy without at least coordination," says Annette Bosscher, head of the EC Commission's division of free movement of labor and migration policy. "With the free movement of people - one of the single market's tenets - it is inevitable that the Community take on greater jurisdiction" over immigration, she says. The prospect of making the Community a free-circulation zone without internal borders by 1993 has already led to a hardening of external border controls. Spain, which in May imposed visas for visitors from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, has seen the number of entries from those countries plummet. EC interior ministers are close to agreement on a convention on borders, but agreement on the free movement of non-EC citizens - and thus immigrants - is not part of the accord. Britain especially objects to an end to internal border checks for non-EC residents, saying that would encourage illegal immigration. When internal borders are lifted in January 1992 by a core group of eight EC countries - Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, and Spain - this will test how the Community is likely to approach the arrival and movement of immigrants. Already these countries have come to minimal accord on political asylum status, for example, agreeing that each would-be refugee can only seek that status in one country, thus eliminating so-called "orbiting," where asylum seekers refused in one country try again in another. Some EC officials and observers worry that the emphasis on border controls without a reciprocal effort on the rights of non-EC citizens will lead to a two-tier approach to civil rights, with a deterioration of immigrants' sense of security and equality. "With 8 million legal immigrants and perhaps half again as many illegals, immigrants constitute already what some people call the Community's 13th state," says Jose Camarena Delgado, a legislative assistant with the European Parliament's United Left group. "But it's a state that risks seeing its rights trampled in areas like circulation and job access as the single market is put into effect."

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