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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A bit of a problem for the FCO

The EUobserver reports that EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini has announced plans to further harmonise rules on the processing of asylum applications and the treatment of asylum seekers across the EU.

He released a report which criticised seven EU countries - Belgium, Cyprus, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK - for not properly applying the EU's minimum set of rights to applicants held in detention centres, even though EU rules do not allow such exemptions. As a result Frattini said, "I intend to propose amendments to the 2003 directive in order to limit the discretion allowed". He specifically referred to further harmonisation of the level and form of reception conditions, access to employment, health care, free movement rights and identification and care of vulnerable persons."

That's very interesting, because under the final deal on the constitutional treaty the UK is not able to opt out of amendments to existing justice and home affairs legislation without opting out of the original legislation - one of several ways in which the UK opt out (in operation since Amsterdam) would be undermined by the "new" treaty

So if Frattini proposes to build on the Asylum Procedures Directive or the Reception Conditions Directive then the UK would in future no longer be able to pick and choose. It would have to opt in - or be thrown out of pervious agreements it has chosen to opt into.

There is also a philosophical question about the whole thing. Frattini said that "Creating a level playing field in the area of reception conditions is a priority for the commission". Do voters in the accept that they will not be able to vote to change the rules on these issues if it would undermine the idea of a "level playing field"? As the EU moves into increasingly contentious fields (and moves further and further away from any kind of mooring in public consent) these questions will become increasingly acute.

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