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European Union/asylum/immigration policy/quotas

Published on June 2, 2015
Interview given by M. Harlem Désir, Minister of State for European Affairs, to the website
Paris, May 18, 2015

Q. – On the issue of migration, the Commission has proposed establishing quotas for refugees, who should be taken in country by country. Does France support that proposal?

THE MINISTER – We agree on sharing the effort of taking in asylum seekers – but voluntarily, and not on the basis of quotas as the European Commission is proposing. About four or five out of 28 countries take in 70% of refugees, so it’s right that we should move towards a sharing of the effort. We’re in favour of an emergency distribution mechanism, so that all countries can play their part in taking in refugees, but without going as far as a system of fixed quotas. Each country must decide whether or not to grant political refugee status. This remains the sovereign power of states. I believe we’d have trouble reaching a unanimous agreement on a transfer of this power to the EU. So the Commission must help establish criteria for sharing this effort, on the basis of population and the number of refugees already present in each country. But we won’t go as far as a quota system.

Q. – We have a proposal from a Commission president who comes from the right, and you – who come from the Socialist Party – are refusing to give up sovereignty on the issue of asylum. Isn’t that paradoxical?

THE MINISTER – I think we must have an immigration policy that is comprehensive. It can’t concern one of the aspects, be it border control or taking in refugees: it must be comprehensive. So we support the Commission’s proposal to that effect. And solidarity must be shared: very few countries in addition to France shoulder responsibility for taking in refugees.

Q. – So would the quota system be beneficial to France, on the whole?

THE MINISTER – Yes – that’s why we have no opposition in principle, but I think it’ll be difficult, given the different member states’ positions, to move directly to fully Communitizing the reception of refugees. Policies on issuing residence permits are still national policies, even though we’ve created common rules, particularly under the Dublin Regulation, a regulation which will have to be overhauled in order to move towards more common mechanisms.

There’s a history, there are ties between the countries where the immigration originates and European countries. People from Pakistan go to Britain, Syrians more to Sweden, and it’s easier for people from West Africa to come to France or to countries like Italy. This will remain the case, but in the face of emergency situations, the 28 must agree to be a land of welcome. At the last European Council in April, the President said France is ready to take in 500 to 700 more refugees in the coming months, and I think each member state should make proposals.

Q. – You aren’t supporting the Commission on immigration, at a time when France is very concerned about immigration issues…

THE MINISTER – We support a coordinated response to the tragedy occurring in the Mediterranean: we must both monitor the borders and step up sea rescue operations; [we support] the stepping-up of Operation Triton, conducted by Frontex. We support a threefold increase in Operation Triton’s budget and have provided new resources, i.e. two boats and air surveillance.

But we’ve also got to dismantle the networks, which requires cooperation with the countries of transit and the countries of origin – such as Niger, which the migration routes pass through. But the whole international community must also help make it possible for a government to be formed in Libya, particularly the neighbouring states such as Turkey, Egypt and Algeria.

Libya has been a failed state since the civil war and the international intervention in 2011. We must combat these people-smuggling rings and the terrorist groups financing themselves by organizing these networks, by putting people on boats of death in the Mediterranean.

A third course of action is necessary: development assistance and help with the democratic transition in the countries where the immigration originates. We must work on this with the African countries; this is why there will be an Africa-EU summit in Malta in November, focusing on cooperation between the two continents. (…)./.

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