By Martin Banks
Britain would be forced to take a greater number of asylum seekers under EU plans that would create a Europe-wide common asylum policy with uniform criteria for deciding on cases.
Commission officials on Wednesday announced the “final building blocks” had been put in place to “harmonise” immigration across the union’s 27 member states.
But critics condemned the proposal, saying it would strip Britain of its sovereign powers to determine asylum policy.
Tim Kirkhope, the leader of Conservative MEPs in Brussels, said: “Britain stands to lose its central pillar of its sovereignty: the ability to decide who can and can’t enter the UK.
“There are many things the EU can do to help growing immigration concerns but such decisions should be based on goodwill from other national governments, not on decisions forced on governments by Brussels.”
Jacques Barrot, the European Commission’s justice commissioner, said the system would “eliminate differences” and set out procedures to follow to avoid unequal treatment.
He said the plans were designed to ensure asylum seekers would have the same chance of being accepted or rejected in all EU countries.
“Our proposals represent a major step forward towards achieving higher standards of protection, a more level playing field as well as coherence for the system,” he said. Under the new rules, authorities would be forced to present asylum seekers with clear information on their rights as soon as they arrived in a country.
The authorities would then be expected to apply the common criteria for admission “robustly” and to “identify more quickly persons in need of protection and those who are not”.
The EU has made it clear it would like the allocation of asylum seekers to be “proportionate” based on population so that each country “shares the burden” of asylum applications.
Bigger countries such as Britain would be expected to take a larger share because of their size. Critics say this could see Britain being “forced” to accept refugees from “overburdened” countries such as Malta, which has seen a surge in asylum seekers from North Africa.
At present, the time taken to process applications differs from several weeks in some EU countries to up to 12 months in others. Under the proposals, the commission said all member states would process applications for asylum within six months.
Critics said the policy would end Britain’s right to determine its own asylum policy.
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, said: “The mainstream political parties can no longer pretend they have any control over our borders.
“On the day that the Office for National Statistics has made it clear that our population is increasing faster than ever before, with two-thirds of that increase attributed to immigration, the commission makes it clear that there is nothing we can do to halt the rise.”
Phil Woolas, the Borders and Immigration Minister, said: “We will consider and scrutinise the details of the proposals very carefully and will apply a very cautious attitude.” The proposals will be discussed by the European Parliament in November.
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