Sarkozy EU visit highlights rifts over immigration

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French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy has criticized Spanish and Italian policies to regularize illegal immigrants, highlighting EU division over immigration on the same day as the European Commission president called for more unity.

On 07 September, Mr. Sarkozy met European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso just after the commission chief had taken the unusual step of directly writing to European Union leaders to ask them for more help on illegal immigration on the bloc's southern shores.

In his letter, Mr. Barroso said that EU efforts for Spain in particular, which has seen huge waves of African immigrants, must be "increased and intensified," stressing the need for a "spirit of solidarity" among European governments.

The French minister, who is a strong candidate to become the new French president next year, backed Mr. Barroso's plea but also directly criticized Spain and Italy - two of the countries hardest hit by the immigration flows - for their programs regularizing illegal immigrants.

"We see the damage caused by the phenomenon of massive regularization. Every country which has conducted an operation of massive regularization finds itself the next month [in a position that] does not allow it t master the situation anymore."

"It is happening now in Spain, and it will happen tomorrow in Italy," he said.

Referring to the EU's borderless Schengen area, he stated that "within the Schengen zone, we cannot have moves towards massive regularization without asking the opinion of our partners."

"European solidarity should lead everyone to inform the other and discuss it with him," he added.

Mr. Sarkozy's criticism towards Rome and Madrid echo words by EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini, who wrote in French daily Le Figaro on Thursday that mass regularization, makes it appealing for people to come to countries to live illegally, waiting for the day when there might be another amnesty.

Justice veto

Meanwhile, both Brussels and Paris have taken up the Mediterranean immigration crisis to launch a renewed plea for removing the national veto in the EU treaties on justice, criminal and asylum matters.

At the moment, all member states have to agree unanimously in these policy areas, but Mr. Barroso said in his letter that this decision-making process is "not very efficient."

Mr. Sarkozy said "We need a European immigration policy. Why isn't there one? Because immigration policy suffers under the regime of unanimity. This is the drama of the rejection of the European Constitution which sought a way out of this unanimity."

But the idea of removing the justice veto, which is set to come up at an informal meeting of justice ministers later this month, still faces heavy resistance from Germany in particular.

In the negotiations on the shelved EU constitution, Berlin agreed to give up its veto only because it got concessions from other member states in return, according to diplomats.

Berlin fears that if the veto is scrapped already in the current EU treaty, the chances of a revival of the EU constitution as a whole will be damaged.

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