Skip to navigation

Skip to main content

Migration News

contact us

November 2002, Volume 9, Number 11

EU: Enlargement, Asylum

Irish voters in October 2002 voted 65-37 percent to approve the constitutional basis of the EU, the Treaty of Nice, paving the way for EU enlargement. This vote reverses a June 2001 vote in which 54 percent of Irish voters voted no. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said that the 2002 vote was a "very important vote for Ireland, for Europe, but mainly for the applicant countries."

The European Union's Commission in October 2002 declared 10 countries nearly ready for EU membership, and recommended they be invited to join in 2004; they are Malta, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia. After their admission, the EU will have 345 million residents in 25 countries. It originated in the European Common Market, which had six founding members in 1957-- Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. In 1973, Denmark, Ireland and Britain joined followed by Greece (1981), Spain and Portugal (1986) and Austria, Finland and Sweden (1995).

The EU reached agreement on the financial terms for enlargement, and settled a dispute with Russia over Kaliningrad. Farmers in the 10 new EU members will receive EU farm subsidies when they join in 2004; the level of the subsidies will gradually rise, and reach EU levels by 2014; EU farm payments are to be reduced beginning in 2007. The 10 new entrants will receive $23 billion in structural aid in their first three years. Beginning in July 2003, Kaliningrad residents will be offered special transit passes to travel through Lithuania to Russia.

According to an April 2002 Eurobarometer poll, most current EU residents support enlargement, with 53 percent agreeing that enlargement would help guarantee peace and security in Europe, and 63 percent that enlargement would increase the importance of the EU in the world.

Many Eastern Europeans are worried about EU entry, fearing that those from wealthy EU nations such as Germany will buy up their land. With farmers in the new EU countries receiving only 25 percent of the subsidies in the current EU, many Eastern European farmers could go bankrupt. Poland will restrict nonfarm land sales for 10 years after entry, and foreign farmers will be required to rent farmland and use it for three years before being allowed to buy it.

Bulgaria, Turkey. The EU said that Bulgaria "is for first time recognized as a functioning market economy," while Romania is not yet a functioning market economy; both countries are expected to join the EU in 2007. Turkey became an "associate member" of the EU in 1963, formally applied for EU membership in 1987, but was turned down along with Morocco. The EU welcomed recent political reforms in Turkey, but said they "do not go far enough." The Commission did not set a date to begin entry negotiations with Turkey, but recommended doubling the $172 million a year Turkey receives in aid as a candidate for membership.

On October 22, the Bulgarian government announced tighter measures to stop illegal migration to Western countries in the hope that the country can avoid renewed visa restrictions on its citizens. After the EU lifted visa requirements for Bulgarians in April 2001, about 500 Bulgarians a month were apprehended in Western Europe and returned. About 6,561 Bulgarians have been arrested and expelled from EU counties, the US and Canada between April 2001 and October 2002.

Deputy Interior Minister Boiko Kotsev said that Bulgaria was "determined to stop the Bulgarians who hurt the country's image and possibly prompt a change in the free travel status" by expanding from one to two years the period during which Bulgarians expelled from the EU for, for instance, working without authorization must stay home, and taking new steps to prevent Bulgarians who have been expelled from EU countries from changing their names and then heading back to the EU. There has been a large increase in the number of Romanian Roma apprehended in the EU for unlawful work since it lifted visa requirements for Romanians in January 2002.

Asylum. EU interior ministers are working on "Dublin II" regulations that would include a common definition of refugee, establish minimum standards for the treatment of asylum seekers, and spell out which EU state has to handle an asylum application. Applicants from the 10 countries set to join the EU would not be allowed to remain in EU countries while their asylum applications were pending. On September 13, European Union interior ministers supported a proposal to forcibly expel illegal immigrants and rejected asylum-seekers. French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said an enforced repatriation program would encourage other unwanted migrants to go home voluntarily.

UNHCR data show that the number of asylum-seekers requesting refuge in the West fell 12 percent to 216,599 in the first half of 2002. Some 268,498 people applied for political asylum in 28 industrialized countries in the first six months of 2002, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States and Europe excluding Russia, according to the UNHCR. They included 22,836 Iraqis, down 15 percent from the previous six months. Afghans accounted for the second largest number, but their requests plunged 44 percent to 15,514. Britain received the largest number of applications with 51,500, followed by Germany with 36,259. Applications in the United States rose by nine percent to 32,441.

European Union education commissioner Viviane Reding has called for an expansion of exchange programs between European universities and higher education institutions in Islamic countries to increase understanding. Several interior ministers said they welcomed more foreign students, but only if they were carefully screened for terrorist connections.

Economy. The EU is trying to upgrade the rights of temporary workers. According to the EU, there are 623,000 temporary agency workers in France; 557,000 in the UK; 305,000 in the Netherlands; and 243,000 in Germany.

"Bulgaria aims to stem illegal migration to EU," Reuters, October 22, 2002.