Year XLIII, 2001, Number 3, Page 201

 

 

FORTRESS EUROPE OR OPEN SPACE?*
 
 
The European Union is based on a commitment to the common values briefly listed in the Treaty[1] as “liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law” and set out in greater detail in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. In addition, all member states are signatories to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which applies to all persons within their territories regardless of nationality or ethnic origin. The EU institutions are now also legally obliged by treaty to respect the Convention. Taken together, these documents offer EU citizens a vision of the responsible, humane society we are striving to build in our continent.
By its nature the European Union is multicultural. Geographically it stretches from the Mediterranean to the North Sea and the Baltic with member states ranging from Finland to Greece and from Portugal to Sweden, countries with widely differing histories, cultures and languages. Enlargement will further increase the Union’s diversity. Moreover, many member states and applicant countries have long-established indigenous minorities. Although the rise of nationalism over the past 200 years led to new nation states being created on the basis of a deliberately fostered ethnic identity, their populations were in fact seldom as ethnically “pure” as politicians then and since have claimed. What is true is that attempts to impose uniformity on culturally and linguistically diverse groups have been a frequent source of conflict.
A further source of diversity is to be found in the thousands of displaced persons left homeless at the end of the 2nd World War. Many could not return to their original countries and settled instead in Western European states. As Europe began to rebuild, leading to the economic resurgence of the fifties and sixties, those same states began actively recruiting workers from other countries and continents. Most of this first wave of migrants and their descendants are now permanent residents.
 
Patterns of Migration.
 
Migration today needs to be considered from two main viewpoints: first, freedom of movement between EU member states; and, second, immigration from outside the EU.
On the first point, migration between member states was already foreseen in the European Coal & Steel Community Treaty (1951)[2] which protected workers in those industries from discrimination on grounds of nationality. In the Treaty of Rome (1957) this protection was extended to cover all forms of employment, including self-employment. Treaty negotiations were then initiated on the mutual recognition of qualifications with the aim of making migration easier. This in itself was a clear sign of its importance for the economy. The Maastricht Treaty (1993) went even further by introducing an EU citizenship[3] for “every person holding the nationality of a member state” giving such migrants the right to vote in local and European Parliament elections anywhere in the Union, at the same time making the right to “move freely and reside in any member state within the territory of the Union” available to all citizens, whether economically active or not. These provisions were a logical development towards today’s EU which, under the Schengen Accord, is largely free of internal borders, though it must be noted that “freedom of movement” rights do not apply to non-EU citizens however long they may have been legally resident in a member state, though they are permitted to travel within the EU without a visa for a maximum period no longer than three months.
On the second point, it is not surprising that an area as prosperous, democratic, and committed to human rights as the EU should attract people wishing to lead better lives. Over the past century millions of Europeans have themselves emigrated to America, Australia and elsewhere for exactly the same reason and the countries where they settled have benefited from their presence. It has, for example, recently been claimed that the USA’s more vibrant economy is helped by its comparatively liberal immigration policy. Immigration into the EU, on the other hand, is often seen as a problem rather than as a benefit. Yet most member states need immigrants, firstly because of their ageing populations — people are living longer, have fewer children, and the proportion of non-productive pensioners is increasing — and, secondly, because of shortages of trained workers in certain areas such as medical staff and teachers in the UK, information technology specialists in Germany, etc. EU citizens, accustomed to a high level of welfare, often fear that immigrants will be a drain on the public purse, but in many countries the opposite is true. Without immigration, past and present, it would have proved impossible to man the public services on which we all depend.
With globalisation the patterns of migration are changing: the numbers are larger, the geographical distances greater. A significant proportion of those wishing to enter the EU arrive as asylum seekers. For the most part they come from countries torn by civil wars or suffering from oppressive regimes, abuses of human rights, or intolerance of minorities; but because of the absence of a general immigration policy many economic migrants also attempt to enter the EU under the asylum heading. Often visa and other restrictions force them into the hands of criminal gangs who promise to smuggle them into EU countries. It is also worth noting that by far the largest number those fleeing war or oppression have found refuge in the world’s poorer countries, in Africa and Asia. The number who reach Europe is small in comparison. Granting political asylum to those in genuine need is not only in accord with the Geneva Convention (1951); it is also moral duty in line with the common values to which the EU is committed.
Progress towards an EU policy on immigration and asylum has been slow. The first steps came with the Dublin Convention (1990) in which member states’ governments agreed that a refugee should apply for asylum only in the country where he or she first arrives. This necessarily involved a degree of harmonisation of national rules, though in practice the Convention has proved to be less than satisfactory and there have been discussions about revising it while retaining the basic principle that asylum seekers should not be allowed to “shop around”. Meanwhile the intergovernmental approach continued in the Maastricht Treaty (1992) which simply listed asylum and immigration policy as “matters of common interest”. It was not until the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) that they were brought within the remit of the EU’s institutions, subject to unanimity in the Council “after consulting the European Parliament” though with provision for visa agreements eventually to come under the co-decision procedure. The draft Treaty of Nice extends co-decision to certain cross-border judicial matters, though excluding aspects relating to family law. This remains the situation though a new and important step was agreed at the Tampere Summit (1999); namely, that there should be a Common EU Immigration and Asylum Policy. The legislative process, however, was not changed. It is still the member states’ governments which are in control. The Commission drafts the directives, Parliament examines them, but in most matters the Council decides.
 
A Federalist Approach.
 
The present situation with regard to a controlled immigration and asylum policy is essentially one of cooperation between member states. While such cooperation is important, a federal Europe without internal borders also requires a more supranational approach. The policy itself and any related legislation should express a realistic view of the immigration needs of the EU and be fully subject to the co-decision procedure, thereby involving both arms of the legislature, Parliament and Council. Any “green card” system should not be confined to trained specialist workers. An additional annual quota should, as in the USA, be made available for more general immigrants. Control at the external borders would be best handled by absorbing the national immigration services into a single EU-wide organisation operating according to a common code of practice. The use of data systems at external borders such as Erodat for fingerprints, the Schengen Information System and the police SIRENE system should, while respecting the principle of confidentiality, be democratically accountable.
Such policies and practices must be based on the highest principles of human rights and migrants must at all times be treated with respect and have access where necessary to interpreters, lawyers and the right of appeal. Moreover, while the main policy direction is best agreed at EU level, the principle of subsidiarity must be respected. The expertise of national, regional, or local authorities and NGOs will continue to be essential in applying the policy, and particularly in aiding the integration of the newcomers and their families into their new countries. In the current climate people fear that terrorists may infiltrate the EU posing as asylum seekers or legal immigrants. The risk, while real, is minute and should not be used as an excuse for slamming the door in the faces of genuine refugees. Closer police cooperation and the development of a federal investigation service offer the best protection against all forms of cross-border crime.
This paper has argued that mobility of labour through controlled immigration can be of benefit to the EU and its member states. At the same time, more serious effort needs to be put into tackling the gap between rich and poor countries which is one of the causes of migration. The EU should ensure that its policies and practices do not disadvantage the poorer countries and should use its own economic and political strengths to promote the improved trade, aid, investment, education and health programmes which are essential to the achievement of a more balanced distribution of wealth in the world.
 
Cultural Diversity in a Federal Europe.
 
Cultural diversity is inherent to the concept of European federation. The nature of the challenge facing us is already identifiable. Although for the most part people of different origins are living peacefully together there are unacceptable incidents of discrimination and even violence. The treaty of Amsterdam opened the door for EU legislation to combat discrimination in a number of different areas, and a European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia has also been established, but these excellent initiatives, though valuable, are insufficient by themselves. If the European federation is to succeed as “an area of freedom, security and justice”[4] based on the common values set out in the Treaties and in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as well as the European Convention on Human Rights, a change in public and private attitudes will be necessary.
The first step must be to promote acceptance of the multicultural nature of society as being essential to the success of the democratic way of life in today’s Europe. Positive action towards this aim needs to be taken by both NGOs and governments. In the USA, which is largely an immigrant country, the “melting pot” strategy has been adopted. “Whatever your origins”, this solution says, “we intend to turn you into an American”. Superficially, this policy of total cultural assimilation, with everyone sharing a common identity, may to some extent have succeeded, though there are still deep divisions in American society. In Europe, with its long-established communities and many languages, it would be strongly resisted. A more suitable policy is needed, based on the principle of integration hand-in-hand with mutual respect for each other’s varied identities and cultures.
Over the past hundred years public authorities in most European countries have successfully implanted a sense of national identity in their peoples. The same methods — namely, through education and information — could be used to develop a pride in the EU’s multicultural nature, not simply as a form of tolerance but as a 21st century vision of a society enriched by its cultural and racial diversity, accepting it not as a threat but as a beneficial element in Europe’s social, cultural and economic life. This approach has already been used in many countries with positive results.[5] Action in this respect is most likely to be undertaken at the national level.
At the EU level, the important issue is how to achieve equality and loyalty through integration. One obvious route is through a positive action programme to reinforce the policy on non-discrimination. Another would be for the immigrant to acquire the status of EU citizen which could be done by the process of naturalisation in his or her country of residence, though this is not always made easy. Moreover, there are such wide differences between the regulations in the various member states that harmonisation would almost certainly be resisted. An alternative, set out in a draft directive which is now being discussed, is to institute an “EU residence permit” guaranteeing equal treatment in relation to employment, education, and freedom of movement for any third country national legally resident in a member state for an uninterrupted period of five years, and provided he or she does not pose a threat to public order or internal security. This is a significant step forward. However, as the European federation is a new concept in the history of political structures and not intended to be simply an enlarged version of the nation state, a more radical approach could be through legislation to enable third country nationals permanently resident in the Federation to apply directly for EU citizenship.
Most people are naturally proud of their roots. They value the influences which go to make up their personal identity, and which help them to feel secure. This must be respected. Nevertheless, any talk of the purity of the race must be suspect. History tells us it is most unlikely; biology tells us it is undesirable, for the long-term health and development of a species depends on genetic diversity. The same is true of intellectual and cultural life. Many influences from all over the world have helped to shape that multifarious collection of ideas and artefacts which we call “European culture”, leaving no doubt that diversity in this area too can be beneficial. The real question we must ask is not whether a multicultural society is possible, because it already exists, but how can we benefit from this diversity in our midst? How can we live in peace together, each person confident in his or her own identity, and all being members of the same political community, enjoying equal rights?
What we now rightly hold to be the “European” values of democracy and human rights have had a checquered history on our continent with its centuries-old tradition of non-democratic forms of government, suppression of free speech, religious wars, nationalism, and the exploitation of colonial peoples. The challenge facing us today is how to build a new secular form of society based on mutual respect and openness towards each others’ culture, customs and religion. Coherence with diversity is a better founding philosophy for a federal Europe than the old ethnicity-based on concept of nation state.
 
John Parry


* Report at the 24th Congress of the UEF (12-14 October 2001).
[1] Treaty on European Union (TEU), Art. 6.
[2] Treaty of Paris, 1951, Art. 69.
[3] See Consolidated Treaty Establishing the European Community (TEC), Arts. 17-22. These do not go as far as Amendment XIV to the United States Constitution which states, “All persons born or naturalised in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside”.
[4] TEC, Art.6 1.
[5] See, for example, Finding our Way, by Will Kymlicka for the methods used in Canada, and Rethinking Multiculturalism, by Professor Bhikhu Parekh discussing the British situation.

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