EC call for Euro green card
BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- The European Commission has made its first moves towards a joint policy for the 15 member states on immigration.
Commissioner for Justice and Interior Affairs Antonio Vitorino unveiled ambitious proposals for a Europe-wide "green card" scheme allowing access to jobs by third-country nationals.
"Immigration is not a solution. It is not a problem. It is a reality," Vitorino told a news conference on Wednesday. "Our societies need immigration and policies should be made responsive to that need."
The controversial proposals -- which do not spell out how many immigrants each country would take -- have little chance of being adopted at the moment not least because they require the unanimous support of all the EU member states.
Europe as a whole is facing an acute labour shortage but so far only Germany if formally addressing the problem.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder hopes to pass the country's first comprehensive immigration law this year ahead of general elections in 2002.
Last year Schroeder launched U.S.-style green cards last year to plug a skills shortage for computer specialists.
Predictions that the German population could shrink by a quarter from its current 82 million over the next 50 years prompted the a government commission last week to recommend the issue of long-term work permits to 50,000 young immigrants a year.
A further 20,000 highly skilled workers would be granted permanent residence and 20,000 allowed to fill short-term vacancies.
But immigration is a political tinder-box in most countries in Europe -- particularly with the recent growth of right-wing parties like Vlamms Blok in Belgium, the Freedom Party in Austria and the Danish People's Party.
Schroeder's green card scheme prompted a controversial campaign from the conservative CDU opposition entitled "Kinder statt Inder" ("Children rather than Indians") which called for spending on education rather than immigration.
Vitorino was adamant the issue should be tackled Europe-wide.
"The reality is that if we do not manage immigration, we have to deal with illegal immigration, trafficking in human beings and non-declared work and those are major threats to the stability of our social model and our democratic societies," Vitorino said.
He said that many immigration policies in the past had been conducted by stealth, with immigrants facing appalling conditions.
Too often they ended up being denied rights, exploited by employers or controlled by gangs, he said.
"But in the end immigrants all tend to stay, one way or another.
"For immigrants to come in legally and be given work permits and a generous set of rights... we have to streamline cumbersome procedures and to couple... both the authorisation to residence and authorisation to work."
The exact number of immigrants each EU member state should accept lies with the member states themselves, he said.
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