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Debates
Tuesday, 11 January 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

11. Green Paper on admission for employment
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  President. The next item is the Commission communication on the Green Paper on admission for employment.

 
  
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  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, Mr Schmit, ladies and gentlemen, I have the honour of informing Parliament that the Green Paper on economic migration that I presented following agreement with my colleague, Commissioner Spidla, was adopted today by the College.

With this Green Paper, the Commission wishes to make a contribution to the current debate, a debate begun with the Tampere mandate concerning the most appropriate approach to the admission of economic migrants and concerning the added value represented by the adoption of such a common framework. Within the framework of the programme devised in The Hague, the European Council invited the Commission to present, before the end of 2005, a proposal for a common European approach to legal immigration for economic reasons. Three years ago, the Commission had addressed a proposal to the Council on this subject, but this was not followed up because of the reluctance of several Member States to tackle the problem in a Community perspective. The changes on the international stage, Europe’s need for balanced management of the migration phenomenon and of the latter’s many political, social and security implications and, finally, the signing of the Constitutional Treaty – which makes a clear distinction between subjects that fall within national competences and those which have, either in addition or exclusively, a Community dimension – are factors that have led the Council to engage in timely reflections and that have put this problem back on the agenda.

The strategy devised in The Hague defines objectives and establishes a timetable that the Commission intends to respect. It is self-evident that preparing a proposal in this area demands a wide, comprehensive and transparent debate and, above all, the participation of institutional and social actors in carrying out the research for evaluations, proposals and contributions. Indeed, police forces and the authorities responsible for conducting inquiries cannot have available to them all of the facts necessary for putting together both a picture of local situations and of migratory flows from different regions of the world to each European country and a picture of the conditions of integration that have already been met, or are to be promoted, for communities of citizens from outside the EU that already reside, or that are establishing themselves, in the EU.

The purpose of the Green Paper is, therefore, to gather new facts and up-to-date information by launching a public debate involving the participation of the greatest possible number of actors, including those from civil society, who are interested in a new European strategy in the area of economic migration – a strategy that the Commission is invited to propose before the end of 2005 and that we have to regard as the cornerstone of a much larger political project, capable of preventing, combating and eradicating intolerance, violence and any form of extremism. Indeed, these factors give rise to the sense of insecurity experienced by our fellow citizens and, in combating them, we must not confine ourselves to reactions in strictly military or policing terms. On the contrary, political actions also have to be undertaken, beginning with a programme of initiatives designed to manage the flow of growing economic emigration towards, inevitably, our own countries that sometimes constitutes an undeniable advantage for the European economy.

Finally, the public debate launched by the Commission in the form of its Green Paper will enable the Commission to collect a host of data and information that it will be able to use as a basis for preparing the proposals that are requested from it by the Council and that we shall present within the periods laid down.

 
  
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  Bourlanges (ALDE). (FR) Mr President, listening to Mr Frattini, I was thinking of the motto of the famous Belgian poet, Henri Michaux, about never despairing but allowing a solution to bubble up unbidden. I do believe that we must pay tribute to the Commission for not having despaired but for having reopened a necessary and useful debate. President Schmit, you should stay, for this is very much your area. We are, indeed, very keen to see the Commission’s move bear fruit. You failed on a previous attempt in this area, in spite of the Commission’s initiative and in spite of Parliament’s commitment. It was the Council that was unable to bring about an agreement.

The question I put to you, Mr Frattini – yes, it is to you that I am speaking – is this: what objective information do you have that leads you to think – and the question is, in truth, also addressed to Mr Schmit – that the blocks placed by the Council on the previous initiative are likely to be removed today, a prospect about which we are, on the face of it, delighted, albeit – it has to be said – slightly sceptical.

 
  
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  Roure (PSE). (FR) Commissioner, I am, of course, like my fellow MEP Mr Bourlanges, delighted that the Commission and the European Parliament are continuing with their common efforts to open legal immigration channels. I should like, however, to put three questions to you, Commissioner.

The first is similar to Mr Bourlanges’ question: what practical legislative measures are you considering taking, and what will you do to stop the Council blocking such measures, as in the case of your first attempt in 2001? The second question concerns your proposed sectoral legislation for legal immigration. Does not this approach endanger migrants’ rights by creating different regimes for each group? Thirdly and finally, what measures will you adopt in order to link this immigration policy to a policy of European integration?

 
  
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  Schroedter (Verts/ALE). (DE) Mr President, my questions follow on directly from Mrs Roure’s comments. Firstly, we welcome the fact that the Commission has taken the initiative on this matter, and I hope that, this time, the Council not again stand in its way. I believe that the European dimension of this task is more important than the individual interests of the Member States; this is why it is essential for us to adopt European rules, as without such rules for this field we will be unable to create an internal market.

One could, however, be forgiven for wondering at this point what the precise nature of these European rules will be. Mr Frattini, I have noticed that in your statements so far you have failed to say that the key regulations which are already in force, such as the ILO Convention, will be taken as a basis.

What part will be played in the Green Paper by the key issues referred to in the ILO Convention on migrant workers? In this connection, I should like to note that the European Parliament has already asked the Commission to incorporate these rules.

 
  
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  President. – Mr Frattini, we have decided to divide the questions into three, by group. Do you wish, therefore, to respond now to the statements made by the three speakers?

 
  
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  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (IT) Mr President, I can answer the three questions, which concern the same basic issue.

I would like to thank Mr Bourlanges and the Members who took the floor. The first reason why I am reasonably optimistic over the possibility of attaining a tangible result, namely the adoption of a European initiative, is that, with regard to 2001, it was the European Council – the very institution which in 2001 did not allow a similar measure to be adopted – which in November 2004 called on the Commission to adopt a European initiative by the end of 2005. Within the framework of the Hague Programme, the Heads of State or Government, that is, those at the highest political level, asked the Commission to go ahead and to do so quickly. That, in my view, demonstrates a new awareness of the fact that only Europe can provide the added value for a strategy on legal immigration.

The second reason is that with respect to the past, we have chosen what I would call a bottom-up rather than a top-down approach. We have chosen to launch a debate with Parliament, with the European Economic and Social Committee, with employers’ associations and trade unions, so that we shall be ready to put forward a proposal only once we have gathered suggestions.

I am confident that this method will first of all enhance the transparency of the debate, secondly it will allow members of civil society to participate more actively in this debate than in the past, and thirdly it will enable Member States to approve or reject the proposal that the Commission will table, having the views of their employers’ associations, their trade unions and the European Parliament on hand. These elements will consolidate the work.

I therefore cannot predict what tangible measures will be included in the Commission’s initiative, precisely because today we are relaunching a European debate with the aim of gathering information and proposals which we shall submit to a public hearing in about the middle of this year, so that we can table a proposal by the end of 2005. At that time we will be in a better position to understand what the tangible measures will be.

I can only tell you that we intend to adopt a framework of minimum rules, to enable those who wish to work legally to do so, and at the same time to give people a preview of the provisions with the minimum of bureaucracy – there are currently 25 different rules on the admission of migrant workers, one per country. We intend to establish a European framework with which anyone outside Europe can familiarise themselves beforehand: that will also help, in our opinion, to prevent illegal immigration.

 
  
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  Fava (PSE). (IT) Mr President, Commissioner, we feel that it is certainly commendable that immigrants are at last no longer considered a problem, but a resource – as the Green Paper expressly states – and that we are aiming for a permanent multicultural and multireligious dialogue. We are concerned, however, by the productivity approach, as, moreover, you yourself called it in an interview for an Italian newspaper: that is, the decision to make migratory flows conditional on the requirements of the European labour market.

The Green Paper inclines towards the possibility – just a possibility, but one which we intend to comment on – of making the admission of an immigrant conditional on a job vacancy which it has not otherwise been possible to fill with European Union workers, or on a Member State’s specific needs in particular employment sectors.

Commissioner, do you not agree that application of this principle could mark the end of a common European immigration policy, as well as a step backwards from what many Member States have already achieved?

 
  
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  Hennis-Plasschaert (ALDE). (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, thank you for the Green Paper. Since action was urgently required, and still is, I am delighted with it. I have only just received the Green Paper, and so I have not had the chance to read the whole document, only the first few pages. I was immediately struck by something on page 5, where as regards the form of future European legislation with a view to the planned harmonisation, three proposals have been made. At least, the impression is created that three options are still open, namely the horizontal approach, the sectoral approach and the so-called common fast track procedure.

Is it not, though, the case that, thanks to years of indecision on the part of the Council, we have tacitly already decided in favour of the sectoral approach? I think that the Peillon report about admitting third-country scientists and researchers is a case in point. That is backed by the Council, and that may explain your optimism to some extent.

 
  
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  Moraes (PSE). Mr President, Commissioner, many Members have not had sight of the Green Paper yet, but at this early stage we should set down for you some basic principles of what is a very welcome discussion.

First, as my colleague Mrs Roure said, integration policy must be a vital component of any proposed legislation. We know that we want to share best practice, but we still have a very vague position on integration policy.

Secondly, managed migration means all things to all Members in this House. For some it may mean control, for some it may mean the right to family unity. This is a big gap and we must define in this discussion what managed migration actually means. These are human beings coming from third countries to work in the European Union, they are not commodities. We will have a set of principles and laws which will have to accommodate that.

Finally, I very much welcome that civil society will have a much greater say, but we must then listen to civil society, to the trade unions and to business. They have some good ideas, and we must not just pay lip service to those ideas but create a managed migration policy which will benefit both the European Union and those people and their families who are coming to benefit our economies.

 
  
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  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. (IT) Mr President, the three interventions allow me to formulate one single comment. Firstly – and I am referring in particular to Mr Fava, who already knows this full well – a recognised, common, widespread principle, commonly referred to as the principle of preference for Community workers over third-country workers, is not asserted for the first time, but merely repeated in the Constitutional Treaty of the European Union. Precisely to avoid the indiscriminate and unbalanced application of this principle, we believe that we need to explore, with the help of civil society, trade unions and businesses, what job opportunities exist for which there is no direct issue of taking work away from the citizens of our countries. Because, if this were the issue, clearly the impact of immigration on society would not be positive, whereas we must ensure that legal immigration leads to true integration. This means workers being accepted into civil society and integrated into education, with real inclusion in society. Obviously, this matter is not addressed by the Green Paper, but is the subject of integration policies which will be the focus of a Commission action in 2005.

These are areas that the Commission will be developing this year, in close cooperation with Parliament and the Presidency. Integration is an absolutely vital part of the process. In this forum we seek instead to listen to suggestions as to how we can make European policy on the reception of third-country workers uniform: that is our aim.

I would reiterate once more to those who asked again that today I cannot give any options or preferences among possible abstract solutions. Somebody asked me whether we could introduce an American-style green card. The answers will come from the public debate which will be starting, from Parliament and from the social actors to whom we shall listen.

With regard to one point I will, of course, confirm a commitment which you can already guess: the Commission will not confine itself to listening to advice, but will take into account the assessments and proposals that it gathers.

In conclusion, therefore, the Commission has two lines of action: turning what has until now been a national approach into a European approach, with the aim of promoting a more balanced policy, and above all, delimiting the phenomenon of legal immigration through a positive approach within our societies. This approach is essential for true integration, which it will be difficult to achieve without it.

 
  
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  Lambrinidis (PSE). Mr President, I thank the Commission for its initiative, which is extremely welcome. Let me try to put a new twist on things. There are tens of millions of Europeans living outside Europe who have benefited from the immigration policy of other countries – not only the United States, but also Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and many others. These people – or a very interesting sample of them – met for the first time during the Greek presidency in June 2003 in Thessaloniki. Some of the most remarkably successful Italians, Greeks, Czechs, Romanians and others living around the world came to tell us about their experiences. Their experience, as European citizens, of being integrated into those countries could be extremely helpful to you, Commissioner. I was involved in this and I would be happy to help your staff plan a meeting with these people. I do not believe that any of us here feel that the relatives we have in third countries have harmed those countries, nor do the host countries feel that they have harmed them. So for us as Europeans to fear the notion of legal migration so greatly goes against our personal experiences. Let us hear the experiences of these people. Their experiences might even enable us to make it easier for our own citizens – identifying as they will with them – to understand the benefits of legal migration to Europe.

 
  
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  Zaleski (PPE-DE).   (PL) I have an observation to make, or rather a question to ask of Commissioner Frattini. I am not familiar with the Green Paper, but I would like this document to contain provisions to ensure that in future Europe will not be suspected or accused, as has sometimes been the case with the United States, of causing a ‘brain drain’ from poor countries. We need to make sure that people who come to European universities or scientific institutes to study or train do not remain here for whatever reasons, whether working or not, as this represents a loss for their own countries. The countries affected are frequently poor countries, whose development depends to a large extent on the education of such an elite. A policy must be developed which ensures that on the one hand it is possible to work here for a certain length of time, but that on the other hand instruments also exist which would not so much force people to return as encourage them to do so, in order to put the knowledge and experience they have gained to use in developing their own cultures and societies.

 
  
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  Lambert (Verts/ALE). Mr President, I have a sense of déjà vu here, having drafted the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs on a number of these issues. I have a number of questions.

What attention is going to be paid to the work that Parliament has already done on these issues? We have put forward a considerable number of proposals, which we discussed with civil society, trade unions and business. The trade unions will demand parity of treatment for third country nationals coming to work in the European Union, so that they are not paid poorly to undercut workers here. Business people will tell you that they want entry made easier so that they are not acting as a parallel immigration system.

One of the things that have changed since Parliament last looked at this is that we now have ten new Member States. If we are looking at a hierarchy of movement for employment, presumably the Commission is looking at removing the transition periods for those new Member States as part of that change in the hierarchical system of entry for employment.

 
  
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  Alvaro (ALDE). (DE) Mr President, I am particularly keen to pick up on Mrs Lambert’s comments on transition periods. We should do our best to avoid perpetuating the absurd situation whereby third-country nationals are invited to work in the European Union or in the European labour market whilst restrictions on employment opportunities for those from EU Member States are still in place. A balance of some kind must be found, and I am confident that this will become possible in the course of further work on the matter.

I would however like to thank Commissioner Frattini and his staff for their efforts in continuing work on this issue, above all because employment is by far the best form of integration we can offer our citizens, as has been brought to my attention in many conversations with groups and individuals affected.

On a slightly different note, I have noticed that the Green Paper is littered with a great many questions. Given that the issue of labour migration is such a complex one, it would perhaps be better to leave some of these to one side, in line with the principle of ‘keep it simple, stupid’.

 
  
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  Frattini, Vice-President of the Commission. I thank all Members of Parliament for their suggestions and opinions.

The fundamental purpose of this proposal is that legal migration should be seen not as a problem but as an opportunity for all of us and for Europe in particular. In this period we will launch a public debate. We will take into account the work already done by Parliament, particularly on equality of rights and opportunities for legal migrants. We will take into account suggestions, concrete proposals, and we will consider all proposals as a very positive contribution in the spirit of open and frank cooperation.

I should like to mention the important issue of 'brain drain'. This issue of brain drain and what to do about it will be one of the key subjects in the particular and specific communication on migration and development, which the Commission will present in Spring 2005. I can already assure you that the Commission is fully aware of the acuteness of this problem, particularly in specific countries and sectors such as healthcare. The Commission intends to propose a tailor-made approach where responses could be made that are commensurate with the magnitude of this very important and sensitive problem. In this way, we will put emphasis on the positive impact that migration can have on countries of origin.

Finally, I can assure you that this problem will be taken fully into account by the Commission.

 
  
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  President. That concludes the item on the Commission communication on the Green Paper on admission for employment. I should like to thank Commissioner Frattini and the speakers. Mr Ortuondo Larrea has asked to be given the floor in order to make a personal statement.

 
  
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  Ortuondo Larrea (ALDE). (ES) Mr President, if I had to define the spirit of the Constitutional Treaty, I would say, firstly, that it is integrationist; secondly, that it is based on free accession; thirdly, that it is respectful of different identities, cultures, languages and institutional structures and creates a European citizenship which does not exclude, but rather co-exists with, other citizens from the Member countries.

In the Basque country, our Parliament has just approved, by an absolute majority, a new Statute for co-existence with the Spanish State which, in fact, is inspired by the Community model, which maintains these same principles I have indicated and is respectful of the Constitutional Treaty. Nevertheless, in this morning’s debate one Member has accused it of attacking the European Constitution and has said that the Basque President and the Basque Nationalist Party have allied themselves with the enemies of Europe. That is entirely false.

We are going to support a ‘yes’ vote and we advocate a ‘yes’ to the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe in the coming referendum. And we want to be able to live together in peace and friendship with the other peoples of the Spanish State, on the basis of mutual respect for different identities and languages, free accession and common work within a united Europe.

We Basques have supported European integration from the outset, and we want to be more European and are working for a common future with all Europeans under the new Constitutional Treaty.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MRS KAUFMANN
Vice-President

 
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