The World from Berlin 'Fortress Europe Is Taking Shape'

The European Parliament has approved new measures for handling illegal immigrants in the European Union. But does it make the EU more humane? German commentators aren't sure.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is one of the primary goals for illegal immigrants coming to Europe.

The Italian island of Lampedusa is one of the primary goals for illegal immigrants coming to Europe.

After two years of wrangling, the European Parliament approved controversial new rules Wednesday on the handling and deportation of illegal immigrants in the European Union. While some have accused it as "shameful" and "draconian," others praise it for bringing some measure of standardization to the way in which the EU treats its estimated 8 million illegal immigrants.

The bill's main measures include:

  • Requiring that illegal immigrants be given 30 days to voluntarily leave before being detained.
  • Allowing illegal immigrants to be detained for up to 18 months to decrease the risk of flight during deportation processing.
  • Permitting bans of up to five years on re-entry into EU territory on some expelled immigrants.
  • Requiring that illegal immigrants be placed in specialized detention centers rather than integrated among convicted criminals, be given access to free legal advice, and that children and families with children only be detained as a last resort.

The measure passed 367-206, with 109 abstentions. Governments have two years to implement the measure's requirements, but Britain, Ireland and Denmark negotiated opt-outs. Before this measure, the EU had no common policy on detaining illegal immigrants, and pre-deportation detention periods ranged from 32 days in France to indefinite periods in seven countries.

Vast numbers of immigrants arrive in Europe every year, and thousands of them die during the journey. For some EU voters, the measure comes as a welcome sign of toughened stance against these immigrants. "Europe has made it clear," said Manfred Weber, the German parliamentarian who steered the bill through Parliament, "that it is not tolerating any form of illegal status."

Among the measure's many critics, leading human rights organization Amnesty International criticized it in a statement, saying it "risks lowering existing standards" and "sets an extremely bad example to other regions in the world."

German commentators take a look at the new rules on Thursday:

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The return directive adopted on Wednesday shows that the gap between the pretense of European policy and its reality is, at least in this field, beginning to shrink. And that's not all. Over and above the advantages of universal rules on deportation, the new minimum standards will mean improvements in many countries. These improvements will not only provide deportation candidates with legal rights, but will also serve Europe's claims of possessing shared values. The end of the scandalous existence of limitless pre-deportation custody is near."

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Unfortunately, the train is heading in the wrong direction. … Already the approach is wrong. Instead of seeing immigration as a way to enrich and increase the growth prospects of the aging continent, the EU has set its sights on building a wall. … The slogans are regulation and repression. Fortress Europe is taking shape. … Granted, the directive does include a few improvements, but it sends the wrong signal. First, the message from Strasbourg is that Europe needs to hold immigrants back and push them away. And only then will legal paths to immigration be considered."

"Politicians excuse themselves by saying that citizens expect tougher immigration policies. There is something to that, especially when the parties themselves are the ones stoking these sentiments. But there is absolutely no reason for the EU to strengthen the fortress. It would be a lot more sensible to enforce the laws already on the books, such as the one on illegal employment...."

Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"From a Europe-wide perspective, the new law brings some advantages because, up until now, nine EU member states had no maximum limit for the duration of a possible pre-deportation custody. In Ireland, Great Britain and Denmark -- who don't want to take part in a shared refugee policy -- detention times may in future be longer than six months. In Estonia, Finland, Greece, Malta, the Netherlands and Sweden, maximum periods of detention will only now be introduced."

"It's understandable that many of the representatives would have preferred to have even better conditions for the refugees and that many of them did not want to bear any responsibility for the compromise. To many, the ban on returning to EU territory for a maximum of five years seemed inhumane. But, even here, we must remember that shorter periods are also allowed...."

"Whoever stands up in parliament, as some representatives of the Left Party did, and claims that the backers of this directive are responsible for the mass grave (of drowned would-be immigrants) in the Mediterranean is falsely attributing the suffering of the refugees to some macabre type of political capital. There is not a factual connection between deportation requirements in the EU and the number of people who do not survive an attempted flight over the sea."

-- Josh Ward, 1:15 p.m. CET

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