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A Common EU Asylum Policy

Immigration and asylum are twin subjects that are guaranteed to get  Daily Mail columnists’  blood boiling; add the word Europe and the mix is toxic. Except that of course, in the real world, it isn’t. And indeed both the EU’s Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are hard at work on the construction of a common EU Immigration and Asylum Policy. This clearly makes sense for countries signed up to Schengen, as people can move freely between them. But the outsiders, including the UK, would do well to be fully involved. This afternoon, as the rainclouds delivered a Jubilee encore, Europe House (London HQ for the European Parliament and European Commission) hosted a seminar on the topic, asking the question ‘Is the UK in or out?’ I’m not sure we got a definitive answer to that, but in the meantime it was fascinating to hear from the very impressive Maltese MEP, Simon Busuttil, who is a leading EPP (centre-right) representative on the European Parliament’s committee dealing with Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. He pointed out that last month, Maltese authorities rescued and brought to land 600 African migrants (mainly from Somalia) from small craft floundering in the sea. On a per capita basis, that is the equivalent of Britain taking in 90,000 refugees/migrants. Malta, Italy and Greece have really received the brunt of the influx of asylum seekers, legal and irregular migrants arriving from North Africa since the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring. Obviously these initial host nations cannot be expected to shoulder all of the burden, even though an agreement signed in Dublin means that in principle asylum seekers must apply in the first EU country they arrive at, rather than cherry-picking among the rest. A European resettlement Plan is being discussed, but there is a degree of urgency. According to the EU’s timetable, there is meant to be a Common Immigration and Asylum Policy in place this year, though I suppose any delay could be solved by the old ruse of stopping the clocks at 23.59 on 31 December.

 

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