europa algemeen

The Amsterdam Treaty, june 1997

Knocking at the gate, june 1997

europa landen


Rumania, preselection for the European Fortress

France, Human rights for 'sans-papiers'

Belgie, "He who keeps silent now must fear everything" Ratko Zamir




With a lot of moans and sighs the Euro summit in Amsterdam has concluded in a new Treaty for the European Union. A treaty that has already been labelled in the media as a meagre one.
Especially because topics like the extension of the EU and provisions as the number of commissioners per country in the European Commission have not been arranged yet. Still, the Treaty will change a lot in the European Union in the next five years, especially in the areas of asylum, immigration and police cooperation. The inclusion of the Schengen agreement and transferring the asylum policy to the First Column are the most important changes.

The Treaty of Amsterdam arranges, both structurally as in depth, issues on the terrain of asylum and immigration. Most important structural change is the transferal of the asylum- and immigration-policy from the Third Column (where decisions are only taken unanimously) to the First Column (communal policy). Also the Schengen agreement is integrated in all member-states of the European Union. The contents have not been worked out in detail, but the emphasis is on closing the outer borders and a communal policy of expulsion.

From the Third to the First Column

In the previous newsletter (no.12) is an extensive article about the structure wherein the asylumpolicy was given shape until now. A number of countries thought the long time of decision-taking was a problem. Communal policy was only created after the negotiations had reached a Treaty (for instance the Dublin Treaty) which would then again take a long time to ratify.

Transferring this policy to the First Column will make the policy only in part 'communal'. In the First Column the European Commission is the main responsible body (there will also be a special director for asylum-policy) and the Euro parliament has a right to also take decisions. For the asylum- and immigration-policy the procedures will be arranged differently though. The first five years the Council of ministers will be responsible and they have to agree about decisions unanimously. The Euro parliament does not get the right of decision, in asylum- and immigration-matters they will only be consulted. In time this structural change has two important consequences: further harmonisation of the policy and faster introduction of communal regulations. By placing the Euro parliament outside the control the level of democracy will not improve.


The other major structural change is the inclusion of the Schengen agreement in all member-states of the European Union. The only exceptions are Ireland, the U.K. and Denmark, whose roles are provided in special protocols. The Schengen agreement is not only undemocratic, it has also led to a downward spiral in the asylum- and immigration-policy. The process of decision-taking is , and will stay, secret.
Including the Schengen structure into the European Union will take a lot of creativity. For starters there is the problem of Schengen membership of Norway and Iceland, who are not members of the EU. In one way or another they will have to stay involved in the decision taking. For the U.K. and Ireland the opposite is valid. They are EU-members, but do not want to be part of the Schengen structure. However they have an option to adopt Schengen measures if they want to. The Council of Ministers of Interior and Justice takes the place of the Schengen Executive Committee. Meetings will be a lot like musical chairs, especially so, because the Treaty leaves an option open for a number of members to take a lead on the rest.

The Schengen work atmosphere and the secretive decision-taking will be slowly integrated into the European institutions the next five years. How, is still unclear. The Council of Ministers states that: "a qualified majority of the votes will ascertain the way the Schengen administration will be taken up in the secretariat-general of the Council". Besides that the Council will also look into, again with unanimity, what the legal basis is for each regulation or decisions which form the Schengen agreement. For new EU-members the Schengen membership will be obligatory. Exceptions like those that have been made for the U.K., Ireland and Denmark, will not be allowed.

Contents of the policy

The contents of the Treaty of Amsterdam are a continuation of the policy of the last years. A strong emphasis lies on the further closure of the outer borders. In the text it is emphasised that minimally the Schengen security level must be reached. Further more a communal European visa-policy is continued, with attention for uniformity of visadocuments.
Important for the asylum-policy will be the regulation of uniform standards for recognition of the status of refugee. According to the text of the Treaty this concerns a 'minimum standard', in practice it will be communal policy.
Concerning immigration the emphasis is on combating illegal immigration and illegal residence. The details of the policy are not elaborated, but will certainly be in the direction of a European introduction of affairs as the Linking Act and the Mobil Surveillance Foreigners.
Last important change in content of the asylum-policy is the exclusion of EU residents of requesting asylum in another country of the EU. Until now a number of Basques, suspected of ETA-membership, could get asylum in Belgium. This country is the only one that has made a reservation on this 'Spanish' regulation.

Police and Justice

For the asylum- and immigration-policy it is also important to take a brief excursion to the police- and justice-policy. The asylum- and immigration-policy has been expressed the last few years more and more in terms of repression and tracing. The increasing attention for people smuggling is a clear example. Police- and Justice-policy stay a part of the Third Column, also in the Treaty of Amsterdam, so structurally nothing changes. In the contents there are changes. This was already mentioned at the press-conference during the Euro-summit, where the Treaty of Amsterdam was given the title: 'protector of the citizen'.
Most important change is the extension of the mandate of Europol. This also has consequences for the asylum-policy, because one of the most important tasks of Europol is fighting people smuggling. Europol gets an operational task in the coordination of the joint European police teams and will be able to make 'requests' to the the national policeteams. Member-states can hardly deny such a request. Besides there are agreements that also other investigation services will cooperate more closely in connection to the prevention, tracing and examination of offences.

Judicial control

The Court of Justice will still play a marginal role in the Europe of the citizen. In asylum-, immigration-, police- and justice-affairs the European Court has no authority in connection with maintaining public order or protection of internal security. In other cases jurisdiction can vary with the subject.