EU Members Bicker Over Immigration

Spain's request for financial aid to deal with its immigrants sparks a dispute over who is to blame for the influx of mainly African migrants

EU justice ministers meeting to discuss how to present a more unified front on tackling immigration have ended up taking side swipes at each other about who is to blame for the thousands of mainly African migrants coming to Europe's southern shores.

With the bulk of the migrants coming to the Canary Islands, Spanish justice minister Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar made a formal plea to his colleagues for financial aid to help tackle the problem.

"We want money, resources, means, determination and the consciousness that this is a reality which is going to accompany us along the first third of the 21st century," Mr Lopez Aguilar said at the meeting in Finland yesterday (21 September).

However, he got short shrift from Germany, Austria and the Netherlands who criticised both the request for money and a decision by Madrid in 2005 to legalise the status of around 600,000 illegal immigrants already in Spain.

"Those who want to solve problems must stop asking for the money of others," German interior minister Wolfgang Schauble is quoted as saying in German newspapers.

Austria's Karin Gastinger said "It's no solution to legalize people, as was done by Spain, because it gives some kind of pull factor to the people in Africa, as we unfortunately saw in the last months," she said. "It sends the wrong signal."

She was backed up by the Dutch Rita Verdonk saying "the traffickers, the smugglers, see very well what is happening: they won't miss an opportunity to send illegal immigrants."

Ms Verdonk is also irritated by France's recent decision to legalise 7,000 illegal immigrants saying that an advance alert system should be put in place in the EU.

The decision to legalise immigrants in one country affects all other member states because the worker is then able to move around freely in the bloc.

On the defensive, Mr Lopez said that the thousands of people trying to get into Europe had nothing to do with the internal laws of a country, instead they were fleeing poverty and hunger.

"Spain asserts that it is completely wrong to say that this process of regularization increases in any way the irregular migratory pressure," he said, according to the International Herald Tribune.

ABANDONING THE VETO? The high level spat is not the only area where there are deep differences. The other is on whether EU rules should be relaxed so that decisions in the criminal justice and policing area no longer require unanimity.

The issue is set to be further discussed today. The European Commission is strongly pushing for a move towards qualified majority voting arguing the bloc cannot effectively fight terrorism with its current cumbersome rules.

But a small bastion of states - including Germany, Ireland and the UK - is holding out.

"My vision for Europe is that instead of constantly seeking to enlarge the competence of the union that the justice and home affairs ministers concentrate on practical measures of co-operation between states to enhance security and combat terrorism," Irish justice minister Michael McDowell said, according to the Irish Times.

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