UK to stump up cash as part of new migrant treaty with France, Elysée says

Britain will hand over a "major" sum of money to help France deal with the migrant crisis at Calais, the French presidency said Wednesday, with the two countries set to announce a new treaty on how to handle migrants hoping to head to Britain.

UK to stump up cash as part of new migrant treaty with France, Elysée says
"Sssssshhh now, just tell me how much do you want Emmanuel?" Photos: AFP

The treaty, set to be announced at a summit in London on Thursday, will “complete the Le Touquet accord”, Macron's office said in reference to a 2003 deal that effectively put Britain's border in northern France.

The details are “still being finalised”, the French presidency said, but the treaty will include measures on how to manage unaccompanied minors, and Britain will make a “major” financial contribution.

At stake during Thursday's talks is a 2003 agreement between Britain and France which effectively moved the UK border onto French territory, meaning the area around Calais has become a bottleneck where migrants heading for Britain wait.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb reiterated Tuesday that France would ask Britain to take in more refugees from northern France and increase their funding — not only for security measures, but also for the development of Calais.

“It's in their interests that things go well,” Collomb told the France 2 television channel on Tuesday ahead of a meeting between Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday in London.

Referring to the importance of Calais for the British economy, which faces uncertainty ahead of the country's exit from the European Union, Collomb added that “a quarter of their trade transits through Calais.”

The original text of the Touquet accord, which came into force in February 2004, implemented joint controls at coastal ports in both countries as Britain, which is not part of Europe's Schengen visa-free zone, looked to bolster efforts to keep migrants out.

Later accords led to Britain financing some of the controls and security operations in Calais, just across the English Channel from its own port in

Calais has long been a sore point in French-British relations, and Macron on Wednesday called for better cooperation in managing the border with Britain ahead of his first trip to London as president.

Record asylum claims

Migrants hoping to stow away on trucks bound for Britain have long been drawn to France's northern coast, with the squalid “Jungle” camp near Calais
once housing some 10,000 people before it was bulldozed by the government in late 2016.

Hundreds of migrants remain in the area, with police routinely breaking up makeshift camps of people hoping to head to Britain, a favoured destination
for Afghans and east Africans.

French officials argue the Le Touquet deal has worsened Europe's migrant crisis by creating a huge backflow of migrants in the area, lured by a belief
that it is easier to secure asylum and work permits in Britain.

A French human rights commission in 2015 said the accord had made France the “police branch” of Britain's immigration policies.

Macron made a renegotiation of the Le Touquet deal one of his campaign pledges, and Interior Minister Gerard Collomb signalled Tuesday that Paris would ask Britain to take in more refugees from northern France and increase its funding.

Brexit fears over economy in northern France

Macron sought to reassure the fishing industry and business owners in northern France on Tuesday over fears that Brexit will harm the local economy next year.

“I realise how much uncertainty there is in several economic sectors; fishing, industry, logistics,” Macron said in a speech in the northern port of
Calais, ahead of a meeting with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday.

A so-called 'hard border' with Britain could crimp the billions of euros' worth of goods that flow through the port each year, a grim prospect for local
businesses and industry executives.

“No matter the changes to come and the relations between the European Union and the United Kingdom, the territory will remain attractive in these areas,” he said.

He said France would press its concerns with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who is scheduled to begin talks on an eventual
trade deal with Britain in March.

“The region's interests will be fully taken into account in the negotiations that France will lead, and I will make our case known in March
with our negotiator, Mr Barnier,” he said.

Calais has long relied on its cross-Channel ties with Britain, which has also made the city a magnet for migrants hoping to reach Britain — a
challenge that was the main focus of Macron's speech.

Migrants regularly try to stow away on the hundreds of trucks crossing to Britain each day.


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.