European Union ministers reached broad agreement on a common immigration and asylum policy during a meeting in France. Lisa Bryant reports for VOA that France, which holds the rotating EU presidency, wants the proposal to be formally adopted in October.

Authored by the French government, the proposed immigration and asylum guidelines aim to set common European standards for legal and illegal immigrants.  They would toughen policies against illegal immigration - for example, making sure those caught are expelled while basing legal immigration criteria on the needs of individual European Union states.  

France also wants to establish common European asylum policies.

A number of European interior and justice ministers meeting in the resort city Cannes hailed the French proposals, with Greece's interior minister saying he hoped it would be finalized by the end of France's EU presidency in December.  The Interior minister of Spain, which has voiced reservations about parts of the French proposals, said he was "satisfied."

The proposed guidelines have been amended to take into account European concerns.  French calls for European nations to reject mass regularization of illegal immigrants, which Italy and Spain have done in recent years, has been watered down, as has a French demand that immigrants sign a so-called "integration contract."

But immigrant rights groups like CIMADE are critical of the immigration pact.  Sonia Lokku, the head of the non-governmental organization's international cooperation department, says the proposals are based more on European security concerns than on human rights or Europe's economic needs.

"Europe needs immigration a lot," she said. "It has been made clear for geographic reasons but also for economic reasons.  There are lots of reasons for a country such as Spain, for instance, to have mass regularizations. Because they realize that migrants contribute a lot to the economy once they are at the peak of their growth.  

"And once they are regularized and once they become documented migrants they also pay taxes, they contribute to the social security system, to the pension system and so on.  So it is really a win-win situation," she continued.

In recent years, a number of EU countries have been cracking down on illegal aliens, alarmed by the tens of thousands of would-be immigrants arriving on their shores each year.  At the same time, immigrant rights groups like CIMADE argue that an aging Europe will need more immigrants in its labor force in the future.