In the lead-up to presidential elections in 2012, the Union for a Popular Movement party has released its ideas for a more “muscular” stance on immigration, especially the illegal variety.

"/> In the lead-up to presidential elections in 2012, the Union for a Popular Movement party has released its ideas for a more “muscular” stance on immigration, especially the illegal variety.

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UMP backs tougher immigration rules

In the lead-up to presidential elections in 2012, the Union for a Popular Movement party has released its ideas for a more “muscular” stance on immigration, especially the illegal variety.

Jean-François Copé

At an immigration conference on Thursday, the UMP will discuss 23 proposals on toughening up immigration requirements in France, including instituting a “point system” for would-be newcomers, tying welfare benefits to successful integration and tightening rules on visas.

“We have to separate ideology from the issue of immigration,” said Jean-François Copé, secretary-general of the UMP, while presenting the proposals to the press on Wednesday.

The centre-right party of French President Nicolas Sarkozy would like to lengthen the amount of time immigrants can be held in administrative detention from 45 days to two months, and to increase the capacity of such detention facilities.

The UMP also wants to make social service benefits for immigrants conditional on school attendance or the successful completion of integration programs and “to reinforce existing sanctions in cases where agreements are not respected.”

The immigration proposals also include strictly limiting instances of giving legal status to undocumented immigrants to “exceptional cases,” such as those involving illness, humanitarian concerns or families that have “completely assimilated.”

According to the French office of immigration, in 2010 France received 188,780 legal immigrants, a 10.6 percent increase over 2009.

Regarding immigration of workers and professionals, the party backs holding a national conference every two years to discuss the country’s work force needs. The UMP would like to experiment with a point system, along Canadian lines, that would rank would-be newcomers according to criteria such as education, French language ability, age, and work experience.

Illegal immigration is a key concern for the conservatives, and it would like to see a more restrictive visa system put into place, especially on the European level.

To discourage immigrants from staying in France after their visas expire, the UMP would like to charge a “return deposit” on visas for cases that are considered “risky.” The deposit would only be returned after the individual has moved back to his or her country of residence.

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.