EU agrees on immigration reform pact
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EU nations approved an outline for a European pact on migration, illegal immigration, asylum and development, which they are set to sign in October.
European Union nations unanimously welcomed Monday sweeping new guidelines for controlling immigration and are on track to sign the pact in October, the EU's French presidency said.
At informal talks in the Riveria resort city of Cannes, EU interior ministers threw their weight behind the "European Pact on Immigration and Asylum" after France softened the text in the face of Spanish opposition.
"The interior ministers gave their unanimous accord on the principles, the objectives, the presentation and the structure of the pact," French Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux told reporters.
"This accord permits the perspective of a signature in mid-October" at a summit of EU leaders, said Hortefeux, whose country took over the EU's rotating presidency on July 1.
He acknowledged that the latest draft of the document, drawn up by France with the previous Slovenian presidency over the last six months, contained "some improvements, some enrichment."
The pact sets out principles for the EU to manage migration, fight illegal immigration and help development in poor countries that people are leaving or travelling through to get to Europe.
Even Spain, which resisted French moves to insist on "integration contracts" forcing immigrants learn the language of their new home, said the document now largely respects the Spanish domestic system.
"We are satisfied, we believe that this recognises the major part of our model of immigration," said Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba.
Others insisted that the 27 nations were not erecting ever-higher walls even though Europe has had to increase security on its borders with the outside world, in exchange for passport-free travel inside.
"I can't see any walls around Europe," said German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. "There are six million illegal immigrants in Europe. We have to fight illegal immigration and supervise legal migration."
Luxembourg Justice Minister Luc Frieden said: "It's not about building a wall. Europe alone can decide who should enter. We should have drawn up a pact like this 10 years ago."
"Europe is neither a fortess nor a sieve," said Hortefeux.
In endorsing the pact -- in the same building as film stars are feted at the Cannes Film Festival -- the ministers have committed Europe to a new vision of immigration.
Officials say it will set the immigration agenda for years to come.
The agreement will organise legal immigration based on a state's needs and ability to welcome people, and combat illegal immigration, ensuring that foreigners who do not have papers are removed.
EU nations would base legal immigration on workers or professionals whose skills are tailored to their particular labour needs, favouring those who would stay in their countries long term.
The ministers will also pledge to try to avoid handing out residency permits en masse. Italy and Spain have angered some of their partners by giving papers to some 700,000 people in recent years.
Refugees will be increasingly obliged to apply for asylum from outside -- some 220,000 people did so last year -- although the EU will strive to better channel aid to those countries they are fleeing.
Greens member of the European Parliament, Helene Flautre, said the agreement was simply French immigration policy writ large and contained no added European value.
"This pact shows that we are not more clairvoyant at 27 than we are alone," she said in a statement.
"While they can agree on controlling borders or expelling people, the states still refuse to put in place an immigration policy that is really able to confront the challenge."
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