Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for home affairs, will next week (15 November) ask member states how to deal with problems raised by immigrants' right to family reunification. This is a highly divisive topic in several member states, including Denmark and the Netherlands, where public debate has focused on cases of fraud and lack of effective controls.
The consultation is preparation for the planned revision of the 2003 EU directive on the matter, and legislative proposals are expected in 2013. The current rules allow wide scope for member states to set their own conditions for permitting non-EU citizens resident in the EU to be joined by spouses and children.
The Commission wants to streamline the rules and clarify some of the definitions, in part so that it will be easier to clamp down on fraudulent marriages.
Lack of definition
Although the right to family reunification features repeatedly in international treaties and conventions, there is no legally binding definition of ‘family'. The principle remains unassailable, but many European governments are unhappy with the unintended effects, as family reunification is becoming a principal avenue for legal immigration to western Europe, often invoked by migrants who would not otherwise qualify for entry.
Malmström is expected to use the revision of the directive not only to tighten the rules, but also to strengthen standards and policies on integration of migrants and their families in host societies.
Under an earlier agreement, Denmark does not implement EU legislation in the field of justice and home affairs. However, its new government wants to hold a referendum – as yet unscheduled – to allow it to opt into EU legislation, on the model applied by the UK and Ireland, or even to participate fully in EU decision-making in the field.