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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 19:49 GMT 20:49 UK
Winning French approval
Refugees crossing in the tunnel from France to UK
Many refugees use the Channel Tunnel to reach Britain

If David Blunkett was worried about how his new proposals for expelling unsuccessful asylum-seekers would go down in France, he should set his mind at rest.

Far from bridling at the notion of economic migrants being forced back onto the ferries at Dover and crowding out the already over-stuffed Sangatte centre, French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy sees the British initiative as broadly positive.

Speaking in Rome, where he was attending an EU meeting on immigration, Sarkozy said the Blunkett proposals were "true to the sprit of good collaboration. It is a development to (British) legislation which we have welcomed".

France is the main point of transit for migrants to Britain and therefore the country most likely to suffer if London starts expelling those who fail to make the grade.

Root cause

So why should it react in this way?


We must go forward. When the decision to expel is taken in a country, it must be valid in all countries of the EU

Nicolas Sarkozy, French Interior Minister

The reasons are two-fold. First France has been pushing for months for a toughening of British asylum laws, and so it can hardly object when finally Mr Blunkett accedes.

From the French perspective, the root cause of the Sangatte problem is the fact that migrants are attracted to Britain by its loose laws on identity checks and work permits.

Stop the attraction and the unnatural concentration at the English channel will disappear. This is a step in that direction.

The second reason for French acceptance is that the British Government has placed clearly on the European agenda an issue which most governments have preferred not to talk about - expulsion.

As Sarkozy said in Rome, "Raising the question of carrying out (expulsions) should not be a taboo in a state governed by the law."

Headache

Coming from a new centre-right government, Sarkozy represents an emerging political force in Europe - one shaped by the populist breakthroughs of recent elections and ready to talk much tougher on immigration.

Nicolas Sarkozy
Nicolas Sarkozy welcomes the tougher UK line
For France, accepting refugees back from Britain might be a short-term headache, but by the same token it would be in its rights to send them further back up the chain to Italy or Spain.

In theory this is supposed to happen already.

Under the EU's Dublin Convention asylum applications are supposed to be processed in a refugee's first port of call.

'Bodes well'

In practice the Convention is a dead letter. But for France, if the principle of expulsion is accepted, it should accelerate the adoption of the comprehensive common EU policy on asylum which it says is the way forward.

As Sarkozy said: "We must go forward. When the decision to expel is taken in a country, it must be valid in all the countries of the EU."

In Paris, British officials have welcomed a new spirit of co-operation in the government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, which came to power earlier his month.

"It bodes well. If we can talk frankly about these things without the sound of eggs being broken that's a major step forward," one said.

Of course for the relationship to develop further, the French Government must first pass one major hurdle: the legislative elections in two weeks' time.


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30 May 02 | UK Politics
30 May 02 | UK Politics
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