French President Nicolas Sarkozy had hoped to massively limit immigration to the mainland at the European Union level. His rationale: "Europe does not have the means to welcome with dignity all those who see it as an El Dorado." In order to achieve "desired immigration," Sarkozy had planned to massively restrict the issuance of residency permits to foreign laborers in every EU country.
But on Monday, the interior ministers of the European Union's member states opposed Sarkozy, agreeing at a summit in the southern French city of Cannes that they would continue to permit EU member states to issue residency permits based on economic or humanitarian need. A final vote on the proposal will be conducted at a summit of the heads of state and government of the EU this autumn.
Pressure from Spain led the way to a watering down of the original French proposal. A few years back, the government in Madrid gave amnesty to close to 700,000 illegal immigrants, issuing long-term residency permits as long as the migrants were able to prove they were gainfully employed. Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said he was pleased with the new draft, saying it jibed with his country's policies.
According to a report in the French daily Le Figaro, Sarkozy didn't have the support of his own experts. The paper reported that a French government study issued on Monday held that: "A policy of immigration quotas would be without real utility regarding labor immigration and inefficient against illegal immigration."
"We Are not Turning Europe into a Bunker"
But the interior ministers gathered in Cannes appeared satisfied with the compromise. "We are not turning Europe into a bunker, but we are steering migrant flows in the world," said German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Others also denied that Brussels was trying to create any kind of "Fortress Europe." EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot argued, "We need a Europe that is open, but a Europe that is open with certain rules, done in a harmonized way and well organized."
The modifed version of the immigration pact, which has been given Berlin's blessing, would allow member states to rule on the status of illegal immigrants on a case-by-case basis. "If a person has been living in the country for eight years and only speaks German, their illegal status has to end at some point," said Germany's Schäuble. He noted that in recent years Germany has provided amnesty to about 40,000 illegal immigrants. "The majority of them should also be given access to the labor market," he said.
The goal of the pact is to better steer immigration to Europe. The EU also wants to introduce a policy of so-called "circular immigration," which provides temporary work permits for qualified workers in order to prevent illegal immigration. "Member states themselves must determine where there is a need on the labor market," said Schäuble. It's also in the interest of the countries that are losing workers that they do not disappear from the labor market forever, he added.
Sarkozy also failed to push a number of other points through. The French president wanted, for example, to create two police forces assigned to patrol frontiers for the European Union's border authority, Frontex.
There was unity in the group, however, on the need to protect the EU's external borders more effectively. "We need a standardization of controls," Schäuble added. He also said that deportation of illegal immigrants would not be expedited as requested by the French. The German Interior Minister estimates that as many as 6 million illegal immigrants are residing in Europe without a residence permit, and each year that figure grows by 4.5 to 8 million.