At its plenary session in Brussels yesterday, in the wake of the Lampedusa disaster, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) made a loud and clear call for a coherent EU immigration policy based on burden-sharing. With an own-initiative opinion, the EESC reiterated its already well-established position on this issue: irregular immigration into the EU is a European problem that can only be solved by European means.
This call is addressed not just to the EU institutions but also to the EU Member States to ensure that a coherent policy is adopted and future tragedies averted.
Panagiotis Gkofas (Various Interests Group, Greece), EESC rapporteur for an opinion on irregular immigration by sea highlighted the scope of the problem: "We need a policy based on solidarity so that it is not just southern Europe shouldering the responsibility. These people do not come to stay in a small village in southern Europe. They are using these countries as entry point to northern Europe; and this makes it a European problem".
The Member States that, because of their geographical location, are dealing with a large influx of irregular migrants, should be supported through mechanisms to share the cost of irregular immigration. "No other issue has shown so openly the lack of solidarity among EU Member States: a lack of solidarity to those Member States on the frontline and a lack of solidarity towards people fleeing war in their own countries", said Stefano Mallia (Employers' Group, Malta), co-rapporteur of the opinion. Mr Mallia closed by highlighting that: "In this case there are no miracle solutions. We need to take steps in the right direction to address a problem that will be with us for a long time. And if we don't act now things will get worse."
Pariza Castanos (Workers' Group, Spain) rapporteur for another EESC own-initiative opinion on the need for a more inclusive form of citizenship, open to immigrants, stressed that: "By failing to tackle the immigration issue in a coherent manner, the EU is failing to live up to its own values of respect for and protection of human life". He also questioned the EU's commitment to the full integration of accepted migrants within society, calling for the issue of full citizenship for these migrants to be examined. Mr Castanos continued by pointing out that that irregular immigrant should not be criminalized. "They are not delinquents; they are often victims in the hands of criminal networks".
In this respect, cooperation with third countries is an essential prerequisite for combating criminal human trafficking networks, and this too must be supported by European mechanisms. Mr Gkofas pointed out that we need FRONTEX to become the institution that coordinates EU coastguards, for which it requires additional funding as part of a joint European Member State effort.
The Committee calls on the EU and its Member States to treat this disaster as a wake-up call and to act now on the recommendations made in these opinions before another tragedy is allowed to occur.