With hundreds of thousands of refugees a year crossing the Mediterranean, Member States such as Italy, Malta and Greece are reaching the limits of their capacity. Securing borders and accommodating asylum seekers cannot be left to just a handful of Member States but has to be addressed at European level. Immigration policy needs to be aligned, not least to ensure recruitment for an aging labour market. At the request of the Italian Presidency, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) drew up an opinion on "European immigration policies" which was adopted by a large consensus vote of 161 to 6, with 6 abstentions at the EESC's plenary session on 10 September.
Asylum policy – still too much room for national "philosophies"
The EESC welcomes the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) but urges the Commission to be more ambitious in promoting harmonisation of national policies, finally eliminating the range of interpretation possibilities currently open to Member States. "The time for a half-hearted solution is over", said Giuseppe Iuliano, Italian EESC member, "the EESC calls for an inclusive system in the EU which ensures a proportionate burden-sharing among Member States, replacing the Dublin Convention". In addition, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) in Malta should be given a greater role with regard to assessment, analysis and advice, enabling it to provide permanent technical and operational support for the Member States.
Shared borders, shared responsibility
28 Member States share a common border, but only a few Member States have the responsibility for securing it. In times of turmoil around the Mediterranean, the burden for the Mediterranean countries is becoming unbearable. "First and foremost, we need a global approach as proposed in the EESC document", said Domenico Manzione, Italian secretary of state at the Ministry of the Interior, "based on this we can develop many smart solutions." The Italian programme "Mare nostrum" has already saved the lives of 120.000 stranded refugees, but sadly 1,900 people have still perished at sea. The EESC therefore calls for strengthening the role of the External Borders Agency, FRONTEX, in terms of both power and capacity. FRONTEX has to become a real border control body, supporting the EU Member States.
An aging European labour market needs immigration
"The current legal framework is fragmented, opaque and diffuse", said Mr. Iuliano, calling for a Common European Immigration Code and a Handbook of Common European Guidelines. "It is essential to tackle barriers and discrimination on the labour market in order to make it easier to attract employees from third countries". He called for a permanent European platform for work-related migration, offering the services of the EESC for exploring the best options for setting up this body. The EESC also encourages a Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM) and the conclusion of balanced and legally-binding mobility partnerships.