Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
‘Europe no longer the cradle of human rights’, rallied a typical press release. The EU has ‘legalised barbarism’, said Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, while leaders in the Andean region have threatened to block trade talks with the EU over the issue.
At issue was the new EU return directive, which was voted on by the European Parliament in mid-June, paving the way for its formal adoption this autumn. The package of measures aims to harmonise key aspects of EU member states’ policy and practice regarding the expulsion of ‘illegal’ migrants. Among the common standards the directive will impose is a maximum detention period of up to 18 months for people being deported and a five-year EU re-entry ban for all those expelled. The agreement was greeted with widespread condemnation from the human rights community and beyond.
While such criticism is wholly justified, the return directive did not exactly fall out of the sky. On the contrary, the draft directive has been on the table since September 2005 and represents a crucial component of the EU’s common immigration and asylum policy, under development since 1999. In this sense, the directive is merely the latest tool – and there are many – geared toward the systematic registration, surveillance and control of all migrants and refugees in the European Union.
The European Commission justified the original proposal of 2005 with the claim that ‘minimum standards’ on expulsion were necessary to improve practices in member states where people being deported were denied procedural rights or kept in poor conditions. However, in proposing an upper time limit of six months detention, the Commission threatened to lower standards in those countries that had shorter maximums – such as France (32 days), Spain (40 days) and Italy (60 days). There is no maximum in the UK and Ireland, which have opted out of the directive, along with Denmark leaving the UK free to continue to detain people pending deportation on security grounds indefinitely.
The Commission’s proposal also made expulsion orders mandatory for all illegal residents, albeit by prioritising ‘voluntary’ over forced return (‘voluntary’ being a fluid concept, often offered by states as the only alternative to detention and forced return). But at least it included some important guarantees for third-country nationals subject to expulsion proceedings that would, in certain cases, have prevented their deportation on human rights grounds.
A number of member states, however, thought these far too generous and by the time the EU working party on expulsion had finished with the text in 2006, these safeguards had been substantially diluted. Things got a lot worse when Germany took over the presidency of the EU in 2007 and substantially re-drafted the text, lowering the ‘minimum standards’ the directive was supposed to introduce even further.
In an attempt to reach agreement with the European Parliament, the subsequent Portuguese and Slovenian presidencies adopted a more conciliatory approach. While these improved the text, the EU Council (member-state governments) had ploughed ahead, proposing an administrative detention period of up to 18 months, the ability to detain and expel unaccompanied minors, the expulsion of people to transit countries (rather than their countries of origin) and a re-entry ban of five years. Many of the principles protecting human rights and procedural guarantees proposed by the Commission disappeared.
With growing and vociferous opposition from human rights organisations and the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee, the council now resorted to a familiar tactic: coercion. It told the parliament’s ‘rapporteur’ and the leaders of the various political groups that if the council’s ‘compromise’ text was not adopted there would either be no agreement whatsoever, or a strong likelihood that the incoming French presidency, which had already proposed a further draconian clampdown on ‘illegal’ immigration, would push for even lower standards. To its shame, the parliament not only accepted this premise, but adopted the measure at what is called ‘first reading’, following secret discussions with the council presidency.
The first-reading procedure was introduced for uncontroversial or highly technical legislative measures subject to ‘co-decision’ (between the parliament and the council), but two-thirds of all EU legislation is now adopted in this way, including all 13 measures on immigration and asylum adopted since 2004. Its effect is to completely remove the final stages of the EU’s legislative process, ruling out a second and third reading, limiting public scrutiny.
The return directive was passed on 18 June, with 367 MEPs in favour and 206 against. A subsequent ‘declaration’ by the member states, which has no legal force, stated that it would not provide grounds for those states with more favourable rules to lower their standards in accordance with the EU’s new ‘level playing field’. But within days, Italy had trebled the period that people being expelled could be detained from 60 to 180 days.
Europe’s deportation machine
While the directive has galvanised much opposition, there has been far less concern that EU policy as a whole now provides for the wholesale criminalisation of all irregular migrants (including the vast majority of refugees). Within this process, expulsion is merely the final sanction in a regime geared ever more toward detection and detention.
In the late 1990s all member states began fingerprinting asylum applicants and ‘illegal’ migrants; all the records are housed in the EU’s Eurodac database, which went online in 2000. Fingerprinting is now being extended to all visa applicants, whose data will be housed in a new EU visa information system (even where visas are refused), and all EU passport holders.
The ‘biometric’ identity documents and fingerprint scanners, now being rolled out across Europe, will be complemented by a new EU ‘entry-exit’ system designed to detect ‘illegals’ and visa overstayers, and the new ‘second generation’ Schengen information system, which will be used to enforce both deportation orders against those who have absconded and entry bans against those successfully deported.
‘Carrier sanctions’, fines for employers of ‘illegals’ and widespread raids on migrant communities complement these efforts on the ground. The result is that migrants lacking the legal authority to remain – despite the absence of any credible statistics, the EU claims there are some eight million ‘illegals’ present in its territory – are driven further and further ‘underground’, where they become susceptible to ever greater coercion and exploitation. The new French presidency of the EU was highly critical of the recent ‘amnesties’ granted by Spain and Italy to regularise people in this position, and is now seeking to outlaw any future concessions of the same magnitude.
The return directive itself is merely the latest measure in a long line of EU explusion policies adopted since the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty in 1999 – among the most controversial is a 2004 decision on joint explusion flights. ‘Collective expulsions’ are actually prohibited under a protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights and were theoretically banned again in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights of 2000, but the EU simply ignored these rules. Commissioner Vittorino, who had responsibility for home affairs at the time these measures were passed, instead called upon member states to ‘educate their citizens that joint [expulsion] flights have nothing to do with collective expulsion’.
The first flight to be organised under the auspices of the EU took place in July 2005 when a charter flight collected 60 Afghans from the UK and France and deported them to Kabul. Two months later, Spain, France and Italy organised a joint charter flight to expel 125 Romanians from the EU (people who would 15 months later become EU citizens when Romania acceded to the Union), sowing the seeds for the current attack on Roma in Italy.
Frontex, the fledgling EU border police, also has a growing mandate to detect people residing unlawfully in the member states and enforce expulsions on their behalf, including collective expulsions. This is a mandate it takes very seriously, having recently requested its own fleet of aircraft for this purpose.
Finally, having long used money from the European refugee fund (which was designed to be used for the ‘integration’ of refugees) to finance their expulsion policies, the member states can now draw directly from a new ‘European return fund’, a 629 million euro programme that will run to 2013, of which 47 million euros is earmarked for Frontex operations.
All of this comes at a time when the EU professes to be ‘dependent’ on migrant labour to maintain current European standards of living, and amid proposals for a new ‘blue card’ scheme to streamline entry procedures for people needed to fulfil specific labour shortages. If trafficking in human beings is a crime, the EU is starting to look like the biggest trafficker of them all.
Ben Hayes is a researcher with Statewatch (www.statewatch.org)
and the Transnational Institute
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced