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Developing a common approach to migration - 06/05/2011

A boy throwing a football in the air at a asylum centre in Malta © EU

The EU is seeking to create a common asylum system, strengthen border controls, increase oversight of its border-free travel area and use immigration policy to help fill gaps in the labour market.

Helping them

Since the beginning of this year, political unrest in North Africa has brought 25 000 migrants to EU shores - mainly Italy and Malta.

The EU has a moral obligation to provide a safe haven for legitimate asylum seekers, and all EU countries are expected to help out when a sudden influx of migrants strains the ability of frontline countries to handle them.

But the images of ramshackle boats and crowded beaches obscure the fact that it is also in Europe's self-interest to have a more structured, comprehensive, longer-term approach to asylum and migration.

Helping ourselves

The numbers speak for themselves. In 2007, Europe's working age population totalled 235 million. Those workers pay our pensions and finance our and health and social-welfare systems, which are already under great pressure.

By 2060, Europe will have 50 million fewer workers if historical immigration levels are maintained. If they are not, there will be 110 million fewer workers than today to help keep the European social model alive.

By 2020 there will be an estimated shortage of about one million professionals in the health sector alone. Migrants can help fill these and other jobs.

A balanced approach

The Commission's new proposals on migration differentiate between economic migrants trying to enter the EU illegally, refugees, asylum seekers, and temporarily displaced persons who wish to return to their home countries. They include:

  • adopting a common European approach to asylum seekers by 2012
  • strengthening checks at the EU's external borders and oversight of the internal border-free travel area to prevent illegal immigration and crime
  • using legal migration to fill expected labour and skills shortages
  • sharing information on how best to integrate legal immigrants
  • taking a strategic approach to relations with non-EU countries to ease legal migration and prevent irregular migration.

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