European Union interior ministers have agreed to common immigration and asylum standards at a meeting in Brussels, but they still remain at odds over the details of a so-called "blue card" for skilled foreign workers. Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.
Adopting common immigration and asylum policies for the European Union is an idea spearheaded by France, the current president of the 27-member bloc. The region has faced a surge in mostly illegal immigration in recent years, with a large chunk coming from African and North African countries.
French immigration minister Brice Hortefeux said it is critical that European countries react in the same way on immigration and asylum matters.
Hortefeux said all EU members faced the same migratory pressures - and all need legal immigration for economic development. European countries must also respond to asylum demands from overseas - for these and other reasons, he said, it is important to have a policy that converged on a European level.
The agreement struck by the European ministers is expected to be endorsed by EU leaders during a summit next month. But it is non-binding - leaving it to individual member states to decide whether or not to adopt it in legislation.
Kris Pollet, who monitors immigration issues for Amnesty International's Brussels office, says the guidelines offer little that is new, and some of the language on asylum issues is quite positive. But he said there is some concern it would prompt some EU members to harden their immigration legislation, for example on the question of reuniting immigrant families.
"The whole reference to the family reunification is quite worrying," Pollet said. "It could be seen as stimulating other member states [to adopt tougher policies found in other countries], like the Netherlands, which already has [policies] for a language test in order to get a visa and be reunited with other family members. The pact could promote those kinds of practices which could be highly discriminatory."
The EU ministers are still not completely agreed on the idea of a European blue card, offering legal status for highly skilled workers - much like the green card in the United States, which attracts about twice the number of skilled workers as does Europe.