The European Union summit in the Greek coastal resort of Porto Carras will be largely dedicated to the bloc's relations with the rest of the world. Last night, EU leaders together with their colleagues from the accession states discussed harmonizing their immigration and asylum policies, and took stock of developments in Iraq, Iran, and the Middle East. Today, the summit continues with talks on immigration and the EU's fledgling global security doctrine. The bloc's draft constitution will also be discussed. Tomorrow, leaders from the remaining candidate countries and the five Western Balkan countries will join the summit.
Porto Carras, Greece; 20 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Amid unprecedented security in and around the Greek spa complex of Porto Carras, EU leaders last night began their three-day summit with a look at improving safeguards on the frontiers of the entire bloc.
The summit quickly approved a raft of measures proposed in the past weeks by the European Commission, the bloc's executive office. In the coming few years, EU member states will harmonize their visa policies, set up a common visa-information system, coordinate the management of their border controls, and institute new common measures for the repatriation of illegal immigrants.
Kostas Simitis, the Greek prime minister who chairs the summit, said last night national immigration problems now need a common EU response.
"I believe it is really necessary to have a [common immigration policy] because it is not a problem or a phenomenon that affects only a single country. There are illegal immigrants who come to Italy to move on to Germany or Britain. There are legal immigrants who come to Germany to move on to other countries. It is therefore necessary that all European countries have the same policy when it comes to all these issues, and I believe we will have one," Simitis said.
However, the summit rejected equally quickly a controversial British proposal to set up transit camps for asylum seekers outside EU borders.
Britain and Denmark, the main sponsors of the controversial plan, argue that the current EU asylum laws are expensive and open to abuse. They also say centers closer to immigrants' countries of origin would remove the need for them to embark on costly and dangerous journeys to EU borders. The threat of being sent to a camp outside the EU would also act as a deterrent.
EU officials, speaking privately, said a majority of member states think such plans would contravene a fundamental principle of international law which requires that asylum applications be considered in the country where they are lodged.
Initially, Britain favored setting up camps in non-EU countries such as Ukraine, Albania, and Turkey. That idea was scrapped when EU governments were told by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that any transit camps could only be located at the EU's borders and not outside.
Britain still said last night it was going to launch "pilot projects" close to conflict zones in Africa. British diplomats said they still hoped for EU funding, while others, notably Sweden, flatly ruled out any EU involvement.
Officials predicted such ventures would run into jurisdictional wrangles as well as serious problems coping with large numbers of asylum seekers likely to be attracted to asylum camps within easy reach.
Another major issue on the agenda last night was the situation in Iran, Iraq, and the Middle East.
On Iran, EU diplomats said the summit endorsed the "reinforced language" that emerged from a foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg on 16 June. Although some countries expressed unease about growing U.S. pressure on Iran, the bloc once again said Iran must allow access to UN nuclear-weapons inspectors. Progress on this issue, as well as human rights, was said to be "inextricably linked" to the success of ongoing trade talks between the EU and Iran.
One EU official told RFE/RL that the bloc has had contacts with "representative" Iranian officials earlier this weeks and hopes that it is easier for Iran to respond to EU pressure -- which it "regards as a friend" -- than to cave in to U.S. ultimatums. However, the official said no concrete promises had been received and no deadlines were set.
The summit also formally approved EU involvement in the reconstruction of Iraq. The bloc's representatives will participate in a UN "coordination conference" on 20-24 June.
A major item on today's agenda is the EU's fledgling security doctrine, to be unveiled by the bloc's security-policy chief Javier Solana.
An advance copy seen by RFE/RL says the document proceeds from the assumption that an EU with 25 member states and over 450 million people producing a quarter of the world's GNP is a global actor that "should be ready to share in the responsibility."
Although initial reports earlier this week suggested the EU has now embraced the use of force against countries running illegal weapons-of-mass-destruction programs, the document's tone is more subtle.
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou was yesterday keen to stress that the EU's approach would remain distinct from the tough line taken by the United States. "The European Union has always been in favor of supporting democracy throughout the world, supporting human rights and democracy. That should not be equated with regime change, which is a dubious concept, because what does it mean? How does one have regime change and what kind of regime does one wants to change and into what? So I think we're not using that term simply because what we want to say is something very positive, which is helping democracy throughout the world," Papandreou said.
The EU's analysis of the main global threats coincides largely with that of the United States, marking out the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as the foremost among them, compounded by the spread of new forms of terrorism and the associated phenomenon of "failed states."
The EU's preferred method of combating the dangers remains a "rule-based" international order "based on effective multilateralism" with the United Nations at its center.
Although "military measures" are recognized as part and parcel of effective action against terrorism and proliferation, political and economic means are clearly to be preferred as "none of the new threats is purely military nor can be tackled by purely military means."
The document also pointedly notes that while the trans-Atlantic relationship with the United States is "irreplaceable," none of the EU's relationships will be "exclusive." Therefore, the EU will in the coming years "particularly focus" on building strategic partnerships with Russia, Japan, China, Canada, and India.
Finally, the summit will today also formally receive the EU's draft constitution, although its in-depth discussion will not begin before October.