PARIS, Nov 17 (Reuters) France will push for the European Union to adopt a charter on immigration during its presidency of the 27-nation bloc in the second half of 2008, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said today.
Fillon said a charter would be a first step to harmonising rules on visas, naturalisation policies and other immigration issues, at least within the border-free ''Schengen'' area.
Schengen encompasses 13 ''old'' EU states plus Norway and Iceland but is due to expand on December 21 to nine of the 10 eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004, leaving only Britain, Ireland, Cyprus and EU newcomers Bulgaria and Romania outside the border-free area.
''Europe is facing more and larger waves of immigration,'' Fillon said. ''We have rules on free movement, at least in the Schengen area, and when we have free movement we need common rules, for example on asylum and the naturalisation of illegal immigrants.'' ''We need at least to coordinate policies in this area ...
During our presidency of the European Union we want to arrive at a kind of common charter which will allow us to progressively harmonise the laws of the different (EU) states,'' he added.
Fillon was speaking after a cabinet conclave to prepare for the EU presidency that foreign ministers from Germany, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden also attended -- all recent or future holders of the six-month rotating EU chair.
He said other priorities of the French presidency would include securing EU energy supplies and strengthening EU defence cooperation. He said greater autonomy for the EU's fledgling defence policies was a condition for France to strengthen its relations with NATO. ''The two have to go hand in hand,'' he said.
REUTERS PK VC2320