29 JUNE 2002, Page 24


Daniel Hannan says the Eurofedera lists are

uying to win over sceptics by seeming to promise tougher asylum policies

YOU didn't need to look very far to find the kind of voter that the Seville summit was aimed at. In fact, I found one in the very first person I spoke to as I left the conference centre: the taxi driver who took me back into town. Marcial was in his twenties, and had never been out of Spain. He spoke with a thick Andalusian accent, barely pronouncing his consonants. He was not a big fan of the EU, and had vaguely opposed giving up the peseta. But he liked the idea that Brussels was 'doing something' about immigration.

'At the end of the day, there comes a point, guvnor, doesn't there?' (I translate loosely.) 'I mean, it's not just all these blacks and Moroccans. There's also all the Colombians and, you know, Ecuadoreans and everything. They come over to work as tarts and pickpockets, they run the gangs. I mean, they're just not compatible with European culture, are they? Like that black linesman c— who put us out of the World Cup, 'scuse my French, guvnor.'

While you can find Marcials in every European country, they are, mercifully, in a small minority. But for every Marcia] there are dozens of people who, without being in the least racist, are worried about how their immigration systems are working. Canvassing opinion in Seville, I heard exactly the same views that I hear every week in my South-East England constituency. Some people were worried

about the burden on the taxpayer or the pressure on housing, others about the undercutting of wages. others about having to take on extra language teachers in the schools. Some of these fears are more legitimate than others, but there is no doubt that, in giving this issue priority, the EU will make itself more popular.

Indeed, the wonder is that it has taken Europhiles so long to hit on the wheeze. The demand for a tougher line on asylum can be heard across the political spectrum, but it is loudest on the Right, among voters who tend also to be against European integration. With referendums due in Ireland, Sweden and possibly Denmark, not to mention the United Kingdom, federalists had been casting around for a way to appeal to sceptical voters. Now they have found one. 'What has Brussels ever done for you? My friends, Brussels is doing something about the asylum crisis.'

Oddly, they are hazy about what that 'something' is. The Seville summit rejected Tony Blair's proposal that development aid should be linked to a willingness among third countries to co-operate with EU immigration services. Instead, it agreed to set up an EL: frontier gendarmerie — although this had less to do with illicit migration than with the long-held desire of the home affairs commissioner, Antonio Vitorino, to establish a functioning European police force. Beyond that, there is a determination to replace the EU's 'internal frontiers' — that is, the borders between its member nations — with an 'external border'.

Few voters, though, will be much interested in the details. For most, it will be enough to be told that 'something' is being done. After all, they will reason, asylum and immigration are, by their nature, panEuropean phenomena. So it surely makes sense for them to be tackled at European level. Doesn't it?

Actually. no. Somewhat counter-intuitively, EU involvement has worsened rather than improved the situation. This can be inferred from the statistics. The Home Office has a slightly different way of counting applications from the UNHCR, treating whole families as a single claim, but the overall pattern is clear, whichever figures you use. For most of the postwar period, asylum claims in Britain were running at about 5,000 a year. They began to climb during the early 1990s, reaching 30,000 a year by the middle of the decade. Then. from 1997, they leapt upwards, and now stand at 71,700 (Home Office) or 88,200 (United Nations).

How are we to explain this jump? After all, there has been no noticeable increase in the number of nasty dictatorships in the world. On the contrary, totalitarian regimes have been falling all over the Eurasian landmass. So what is going on?

Part of the answer has to do with domestic British conditions. We have enjoyed a period of continuous growth since 1992, making Britain an easy place to find work. And, under Labour, we have dropped the requirement that refugees make their claim for sanctuary when they arrive, rather than when the Immigration Service catches up with them.

But the two biggest factors are European. First, the Schengen zone was created in 1993. Where it had previously been neeessan, to cross at least three EU frontiers to enter Britain, there is now a border-free area across the Continent. Second, in 1997 the Dublin Convention came into force, supplanting the previous bilateral agreements between individual EU states. This effectively makes it impossible for British immigration officers to return fauxrefugees to France or Belgium.

How strange, then, that the Prime Minister should see more European integration as the solution rather than the problem. The truth is that the nascent common asylum and immigration policy has the same basic flaw as the Common Fisheries Policy: that which no one owns, no one cares for. As long as each EU nation believes that it can pass illicit migrants on to its neighbours, it will have little incentive to police its own territory.

Here, if ever there was one, is a case where bilateral or indeed unilateral action is clearly preferable. If ministers were serious about bringing the asylum system under control, they would renegotiate the agreement that Michael Howard had struck with the French authorities, where

by each country took back false claimants who had already been through its territory. More radically, Britain could simply announce that it did not believe that people could have a well-founded fear of persecution in France, and that it would therefore refuse to accept any refugees from that country.

It is possible that David Blunkett is thinking along these lines. He is a reasonable man, if a mite authoritarian. He seems, rightly, to want a degree of controlled primary immigration. And he understands that, in order to secure public support for legal immigration, he needs to Cut down on illegal immigration. It is no secret that his officials are in contact with their French counterparts about a bilateral solution to the asylum crisis. The trouble is that this intergovernmental approach is wholly at odds with the EU-wide approach agreed at Seville.

For all Mr Blunkett's efforts, I suspect that, in a few years' time, we will end up with a great deal more Euro-harmonisation, and with our asylum system still out of control. The first more or less guarantees the second. If you want a glimpse of how the EU will run a common asylum and immigration policy, look at how it has managed the common agricultural and fisheries policies. When will we ever learn?

Daniel Hannan is Conservative MEP for South-East England.