Fortress Europe to Lower its Drawbridge EU May Ease Rules on Economic Immigration

European Union ministers are considering ways to make legal immigration to the bloc easier, in a bid to help reduce massive illegal immigration.


Thousands of would-be immigrants -- like this group intercepted near the Canary Islands last Sept. -- attempt to cross into the European Union every year.
AFP

Thousands of would-be immigrants -- like this group intercepted near the Canary Islands last Sept. -- attempt to cross into the European Union every year.

For years, "Fortress Europe" has been under siege. Immigrants from developing countries in Africa and elsewhere are willing to fork over thousands of dollars for a chance to illegally enter the European Union. And many of them die trying.

Now, EU ministers are discussing steps to reduce such illegal immigration -- by making it easier to enter Europe legally -- not least in a bid to avoid a repeat of last summer's scenes of sub-Saharan Africans dying as they tried to sail across the Mediterranean and get inside EU borders.

On the first day of a two-meeting of EU justice and interior ministers in Dresden on Monday, ministers called for measures to lower the hurdles for economic immigrants. Increasingly rich Europeans, after all, shun many menial tasks. In many countries, there is no lack of such jobs.

"We have to also offer legal access to the labor market," said German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Germany took over the six-month rotating EU presidency at the start of 2007.

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini called for partnership agreements on legal immigration with sub-Saharan African countries such as Mali, Senegal, Gambia or Mauritania. The interior ministers discussed the need to win the support of the migrants' countries of origin in the fight again illegal immigration. Incentives are seen as the way to do so, but the ministers did not reach agreement on concrete measures.

The proposals met with broad approval. "I am very much in favor of us making strong efforts to find rules for legal immigration," Luxembourg's Justice Minister Luc Frieden commented. "Naturally they always have to meet the needs of the national labor markets," he added.

Ministers also called for more measures to fight illegal immigration, such as supplying Frontex, the EU's border agency, with patrol boats and helicopters.

More than 31,000 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa reached Spain's Canary Islands in 2006. Malta and Italy were also besieged by illegal immigrants coming by boat. Thousands are believed to have died attempting the dangerous sea journey to the EU.

dgs/reuters/dpa

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