The Amsterdam Treaty, june 1997
Knocking at the gate, june 1997
Rumania, preselection for the European Fortress
France, Human rights for 'sans-papiers'
Belgie, "He who keeps silent now must fear everything" Ratko Zamir
THE AMSTERDAM TREATY
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
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
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'
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.
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.