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Background Information | European Union |

European Union Background Information Historical Development Faces of Migration Institutional Basis Immigration Policy Integration Policy Irregular Migration Refuge and Asylum EU Citizenship Future Challenges Literature

Background Information

Sandra Lavenex

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European Union (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de

Whereas the right of EU citizens to move and reside freely within the territory of member states is one of the fundamental freedoms of the European Single Market, and was already provided for in the Treaties establishing the European Community , the European Union originally had no powers where migration policy was concerned.

Cooperation in matters of immigration and asylum is one of the most recently addressed aspects of European integration. Its significance has expanded rapidly since the matter was first introduced at the end of the 1980s, and today it is without doubt one of the core areas of the European integration project. Member states' claims to sovereignty are nevertheless ever-present, not least due to the sensitive nature of immigration policy matters internally and their relevance to national sovereignty and national identity.

Background InformationEuropean Union

Seats of Government: Brussels (Council of the European Union, European Commission), Brussels and Strasbourg (European Parliament), Luxembourg (Court of Justice)
Official languages: French and English (main working languages) plus 21 other official languages
Area: 4.2 million km2
Population (2007): 497 million
Population density (2006): 114.8 persons per km2
Population growth (2005): + 297.300
Labour force participation rate (2006): 64.4%
Foreign population: (2007): 28.861.974 (5.8%) (Eurostat - EU 25)
Percentage of foreign employees amongst gainfully employed (2007): 6.7%
Unemployment rate (2006): 7.9%

The significant expansion of European powers and responsibilities has, therefore, led as yet only to isolated common policies, and these matters are generally handled intergovernmentally. Any cooperation is concentrated on areas in which the member states are pursuing common interests. This concern, above all, improved state control over migration, cooperation between border police and strengthened the fight against irregular immigration and asylum abuse. By contrast, there has been less progress in relation to the rights of immigrants within the EU. The rights of legally settled foreigners have been only partially harmonised; cooperation in the area of labour migration has been difficult to achieve, due to member states' claims to sovereignty; and only tentative steps have been taken to coordinate foreign integration. This selective focus, along with the difficulty of surrendering national powers and responsibilities, arises not least from the highly heterogeneous positions of the member states with regard to immigration and their immigration histories. The following section provides a brief overview of these differing positions before turning to the content of European regulations.



  1. In the following text we use the term European Union (EU) both for earlier European Communities and for those areas that, in the treaty, come under the "first pillar" of the European Community.

  2. See Lavenex 2006a.

Weitere Inhalte

Sandra Lavenex is Professor of International Relations and Global Governance at the University of Lucerne and Visiting Professor at the Collège d'Europe in Bruges and Natolin (Warsaw). Her research focuses on European and international migration policies, European neighbourhood policy, and questions related to institutional co-ordination at an international level.