EU's designated justice commissioner criticised on migrant camp proposal
Leading European lawmakers attacked the EU's designated justice chief, Rocco Buttiglione, yesterday over his call to park would-be immigrants in camps outside the wealthy bloc.
Liberals and left-wing Greens warned Mr Buttiglione he was in for "a rocky ride" if he persisted with his idea for setting up processing centres in third countries.
But Mr Buttiglione, the Italian European affairs minister, defended his vision, saying it would help people find legal ways into the EU.
He will be grilled by members of the EU assembly in hearings starting on September 27 as part of the confirmation process for the bloc's new executive Commission headed by former Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Barroso.
Liberal Democrat leader Graham Watson criticised Mr Buttiglione for supporting a plan the European Parliament had already rejected last year.
"If Mr Buttiglione's chosen route is confrontational, he can expect a rocky ride from liberals and democrats in this parliament," he told a news conference as lawmakers returned from their summer break.
Greens parliamentary leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit said Mr Buttiglione was off to a "very bad political start" as the commissioner in charge of asylum and immigration.
In June 2003, Britain was forced to drop proposals to create asylum camps outside the bloc after pressure from Sweden and France, which said they breached international law.
EU heavyweight Germany revived the debate in July, and called last month for "gateways" to be set up outside the bloc to process and repatriate those not meeting immigration requirements.
"I have the impression that what was rejected (last year) was the idea to have something like concentration camps in Northern Africa and sending illegal immigrants there. That is not my idea," Mr Buttiglione told Reuters by telephone.
Italy is a key player in the immigration debate as thousands of migrants risk their lives trying to reach the country's long shores from the Balkans, Turkey and North Africa in small boats, often barely seaworthy. Most aim to settle in other EU states.
Mr Buttiglione said the EU should set up "centres, not camps" in agreement with neighbouring states in the Mediterranean area, where migrants could receive humanitarian relief and information about legal ways to enter the 25-nation bloc.
The centres could also deter unwanted migrants and warn people against entering Europe by paying traffickers.
"We can discuss the best way to do this, but I think this could be a powerful instrument of channelling people into Europe legally and discourage those who are unfit to come. This would reduce the enormous power of the slave trade," he said.
Despite the criticism of Mr Buttiglione, parliament has no power to veto individual commissioners and is expected to approve the new 25-member Commission next month.
Mr Watson said Mr Buttiglione would also have to explain why Italy had not yet ratified an EU-wide arrest warrant agreed after the September 11 attacks on the United States, to replace cumbersome extradition procedures.
Mr Buttiglione said he strongly supported the warrant and should not be judged on the record of the Italian government.