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June 1998, Volume 5, Number 6

EU: Amsterdam Treaty

In June 1997 in Amsterdam, EU-member nations agreed to cooperate more closely on immigration, asylum and visa matters, but they did not agree to move immigration from the third to the first pillar, nor to shift from unanimous to majority voting on migration issues. Third pillar issues such as immigration are the responsibility of national governments, but require coordination between EU member nations; first pillar issues are those on which the EU Commission can take the lead in proposing policy, such as the Common Agricultural Policy. The Treaty of Amsterdam will be effective after it is ratified by EU-member nations.

On May 28, Denmark voted 55-45 percent to endorse the 1997 Amsterdam treaty. One poster in the campaign warned against the EU's planned enlargement into eastern Europe: "Welcome to 40 million Poles in the EU." The campaign against approval has focused on the Schengen agreement. The Danes shocked the EU in 1992 by rejecting the initial Maastricht Treaty.

One report observed that it was surprising that a socially liberal nation such as Denmark should be obsessed with the "immigration threat." Denmark, with a population of 5.2 million, has fewer than 100,000 immigrants, most of whom are Scandinavians.

Denmark in May 1998 imposed visa requirements on Croats in an attempt to head off a Croatian Serbs seeking political asylum. More than 2,200 Croatian Serbs have applied for political asylum in Norway, and Denmark feared that residents of the former rebel enclave of Eastern Slavonia would soon begin arriving. Croatians do not need visas to enter the European states that have signed the Schengen agreement; Denmark, Ireland, and the UK are not members of Schengen.

On April 16, Sweden's parliament ratified the European Union's Schengen Convention; Sweden will become a full Schengen member in 2000. The Swedish government would like to maintain freedom of movement among the Nordic nations. Norway and Iceland have signed cooperation accords with the Schengen signatories.

On May 2, 1998, 11 European countries--Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain--formally joined the European Monetary Union. They plan to lock their exchange rates on July 1, 1998, and introduce a common currency, the Euro, January 1, 2002. The Euro is expected to have a value close to that of the European Currency Unit, currently $1.10.

On May 6, Dutch voters returned Prime Minister Wim Kok's Labor Party to power. Domestic issues, including immigration, dominated the campaign. In a poll conducted just before the election, 64 percent of the population was in favor of a "very strict" immigration policy. The leader of the right-wing VVD party had called for tighter immigration laws and a stricter policy on asylum seekers. The Netherlands has received 250,000 asylum seekers since 1989. Over four percent of its population of 15.5 million are foreigners.

"Denmark imposes visas on Croatian visitors," Reuters, May 26, 1998. Stephen Bates, "Skeptical Danes eye EU exit door," The Guardian, May 23, 1998. "Sweden ratifies European frontier accord," Agence France Presse, April 16, 1998.