| The Courier N°129 Sept-Oct 1991 - Dossier: Immigration - Country reports : Fiji, Tonga |
An EP and ESC Conference in Luxembourg
by Francis WHYTE
'Migrant workers from third countries' was the topic of a conference organised by the EC Economic and Social Committee (ESC) and the European Parliament in Luxembourg, in June 1991.
Migratory patterns (causes and trends), right to social protection, standards of living and living conditions; right to education and vocational training, access to employment; right of entry and residence, right to reunite families; right to freedom of movement; civil rights, the situation of immigrant women, political and social integration: each of these topics was the subject of a debate introduced by an expert and presided over by an MEP or an ESC member.
For their first joint conference ever, the ESC and the European Parliament had chosen a particularly difficult topic. A few days before the conference started, an outburst of violence had taken place between 'second generation' youngsters and French police in a Parisian suburb.
In fact, the two opening speakers were French: Nicole PÃ©ry, who spoke on behalf of EP President Baron Crespo, and FranÃ§ois Stuedelin, ESC President. It was significant that both of them should recall the old French May 1968 slogan of 'Vivre et travailler au pays' ('live and work in one's own country'), reminiscent of the Larzac farmers' non-violent resistance to the planned extension of a French Army training camp...
Practical solutions were what FranÃ§ois Staedelin expected from this conference ('Community solutions, for it is all to easy to say this is a national problem'). He suggested one or two himself: Western European firms should invest in Eastern Europe to help workers carry on working and living in their country. He also suggested that the EC should have a lodging policy: 'The Coal and Steel Community had one, why not the Economic Community?'.
As for Nicole PÃ©ry, she suggested that all cooperation agreements between the EC and an Eastern European or Southern Hemisphere country should include a clause on migrant workers.
Both speakers agreed that the EC should remain open to migrants, 'but the EC must say under what conditions', stressed Francois Staedelin.
'Vivre et travailler au pays'? Jean-Claude Junker, Luxembourg Finance and Labour Minister seemed to agree with the slogan. He informed the conference that on 23-24 April, EC Labour ministers had made it clear to their Eastern European counter-parts, that they did not want the EC to become the 'natural recipient' for 'migratory presswes' coming from Eastern Europe. Instead, EC Member States should coordinate the type of on-the-spot training they are prepared to give to Eastern European workers. One of the arguments put forward by Mr Juncker was that the EC wanted to carry on welcoming refugees from all over the world seeking political asylum.
One of the most spectacular practical suggestions was that put forward by Belgian expert D. Pieters of creating a 'thirteenth' social protection system specially for migrant workers, instead of harmonising all twelve Member States' systems. 'Harmonisation would lead to such a complicated system that it is better to look for an alternative', he stressed.
The International Labour Organisation should be involved in the way the EC helps third countries, so that the social partners there may play a consultative role, suggested B. Mourgues (Workers' Group, France), who had just come back from a meeting with Maghreb area trade-unions in Tunis: 'They all fear that Europe will close its doors after 1993'.
Other speakers suggested concentrating EC financial help on countries with the greatest emigration potential. But B. Fayot (Socialist, Luxembourg) recalled that Northern States had already tried to influence policies of 'under developed' States in the past with disastrous effect, especially in the field of demography. For people who had already emigrated to the EC, he advocated participation rather than paternalism: 'It is up to public services in the welcoming States to respect the language and culture of the migrant workers'.
The Shengen Agreement criticised
'You can teach us as many languages as you like', replied a representative of a migrant workers organisation. 'It will not make us feel equal. We carry our passport on our face'.
Third country migrant workers should be able to move around the EC just like any other Community citizen, said A. Amato (Workers' Group, Italy), rapporteur of the ESC's own-initiative opinion adopted last April. They should also be able to work anywhere in the EC.
Mr Bomtempi (GUE, Italy) suggested drawing up a charter of fundamental rights for citizenship in Europe ('and not European citizenship'). He also sharply criticised the Shengen agreement signed at the beginning of the year by the Benelux, France, Germany and Italy to allow free circulation between themselves: 'This agreement abolishes the principle of controlling the legal basis of administrative procedures'.
One of the most lively interventions was that of young French Green MEP, Mrs Tazdait. She suggested that in the future, a Commission Vice-President should be appointed to deal with migratory patterns and racism.
Domingo Segarra (GUE, Spain) said that the next EC treaty should include a chapter recognising citizenship to those who are working in the Community.
'I've never seen such unanimity before in favour of a fairer treatment for the EC's eight million immigrant workers', said Vasco Cal, a Portuguese trade-unionist, Chairman of the ESC's Social Affairs section, interviewed by Reuter straight after the conference
Indeed, all the participants agreed that it was high time a 'positive' image be given of migrant workers and their families. As Vasco Cal said in his conclusion: 'The immigrants contribute positively to the economic development and the construction of the type of open, pluricultural societies which characterise the EC. Their contribution to social security schemes can solve the financial problems caused by the EC's demographic deficit. The role of immigrants must be enhanced in the eyes of Member States' public opinion. This will help change mentalities, improve integration and fight racism'.
'It is necessary to harmonise and even coordinate Member States' policies when they affect immigration. Cooperation and development policies should encourage potential migrants to stay at home and help those who want to go back. All agreements on immigration should become multilateral. National social security systems of EC and EFTA Member States should converge. Policies dealing with visas, asylum, residence and family grouping should be coordinated, taking into account ILO conventions and recommendations'.
More should be done to collect data on I immigration at EC level. Each Member I State should be encouraged to have a I national immigration policy. At the same time, the first steps must be taken towards a Community immigration policy which would provide the legal framework to solve all the problems raised during the conference.
There was consensus on the principle of equality of treatment for the immigrants and their families who are legally established in a Member State. This should have an effect on social policy, access to education, health, security on the work place, social security and free circulation within the EC.
The Charter of fundamental social Community rights should apply to all workers, to counter atypical and clandestine work which most migrants come across.
The best way to counter racial discrimination is to help immigrants integrate social structures such as unions, associations, existing educational and professional training systems. They must have decent lodging and health protection.
The status of migrant women should not depend on their family situation. Their integration problems must be dealt with specifically.
Civil rights and the right to vote in local and municipal elections is also a good way of integrating migrants who have definitely settled down in a Member State.
As Vasco Cal said at the end of his conclusion, 'the fact that for the first time, the European Parliament and the EC Economic and Social Committee have taken the initiative of organising together a conference clearly shows to the EC decision-makers that members of the EP and socio-professional representatives of the EC agree on how important those problems are and how urgent it is to deal with them in an appropriate way at Community level'.
'There will be other, more specific conferences', promised Wim Van Velzen, Chairman of the EP Social Affairs Commission. He stressed the necessity of a Charter of migrant citizens' rights and an EC action programme to help migrant workers be more informed. Considering most migrants are here to stay, the EC must design a policy for the second and third generation descendants of the first wave of migration. Although a few migrants' representatives were present, the conference revealed how difficult it was to have a genuine migrants' representation. This problem will become a crucial issue in the future, he predicted.