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Last Updated: Monday, 25 October, 2004, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
Q&A: EU immigration changes
David Blunkett and EU counterparts are meeting in Luxembourg - and look set to scrap the requirement for unanimous agreement on asylum and immigration policy in favour of a system of qualified majority voting.

Why is the system being changed?

The European Union says qualified majority voting will speed up decision-making on asylum and immigration, and has been made more urgent by the expansion to 25 member states.

What is qualified majority voting?

At the moment any one country can scrap any policy plan. The change would see a decision going through if supported by at least 14 member states representing at least 65% of the EU's total population.

What impact will it have on policy?

The government says the least likely countries to agree to changes in asylum and immigration policies are the more lax ones. The removal of their ability to veto changes would allow the UK and other countries who want "tougher" policies to bring them in quicker. Opponents say that the UK could have EU policy imposed on it because it will lose the ability to veto plans.

So policy can be imposed on the UK?

Home Secretary David Blunkett says that there will be an opt-out if the UK decides it disagrees with an EU policy. For the Tories David Davis says there will be huge pressure on the UK not to opt-out of policies which will become law across the European Union. He says ministers are being gullible if they believe the opt-out is a worthy replacement for the veto.

What sort of policy are we talking about?

One good example is that the European Commission is keen on having its own corps of border guards. The UK opposes it. With an opt-out the UK could stop EU border guards operating in the UK, but they could not veto the creation of a corps of EU border guards to cover the other member states. Whether this would be a feasibly position for the long-run is where the two sides differ.

Why now?

Mr Blunkett and his fellow justice and interior ministers are finalising the EU's five year plan in justice and home affairs ahead of a summit of EU leaders on 5 November. The programme of measures being discussed also includes a plan for common deportation procedures. strengthening of Europol and the creation of a Europe-wide register of convictions.




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