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EU: Commission Ponders Special Relationship With New Neighbors

The European Union is pondering the question of how it can develop a special relationship with those countries which will be the Union's direct neighbors after the coming eastward enlargement. The European Commission is starting a study on the subject, to be ready by the end of 2002. The idea of a special relationship stems from a British initiative which is related to the issue of how to control the flood of illegal immigration into the Union.

Prague, 18 April 12002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union is searching for what is being described as a "new kind of relationship" with those countries which will be its neighbors after the coming eastward enlargement of the Union.

EU foreign ministers, at a meeting in Luxembourg this week, asked the European Commission to make a study of how -- or even whether -- such a special relationship can be developed. The report should be completed later this year.

The idea of this "near-neighbor" relationship came from Britain, which according to EU sources was thinking in terms of three states which will directly border on the EU when the present enlargement process is completed -- namely Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus.

Others at the meeting, such as Sweden, had a different view, saying that the EU needs a strategy for neighbor countries right around the perimeter of the expanded EU, from Russia in the north, in an arc around to Morocco in the south.

The sources say those compiling the study will have to reflect on issues like whether a single approach can be developed to fit countries along the EU periphery as diverse as Belarus and Morocco, or whether approaches will have to be more nuanced.

The report will be prepared by the staff of External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten. Patten is known to believe that the eventual prospect of EU membership for the Central and Eastern European states made a big contribution to regional stability during the past decade of transition.

But he reasons that once the enlargement is over, the EU will need a new strategy to bolster the countries remaining outside the Union, some of whom have no practical prospect of ever becoming EU members. He calls this a "proximity policy," and he says neighbor states must be looked at through a "special prism."

Patten's spokesperson, Emma Udwin, says: "There is obviously an anxiety about creating a new gulf between increasingly affluent members of the EU living just next door to countries which don't have those benefits. And the gulf between rich and poor is always unstable and will always be something which encourages, [for instance], the kind of migration which causes problems."

The Luxembourg foreign ministers' meeting discussed the issue of illegal immigration. Italy called for the EU to do more to prevent desperate people from arriving en masse at the Union's land borders and shores. The ministers agreed on the "absolute need" to gain cooperation from the authorities in those countries from which most of the illegal immigrants come. Those countries include Iraq and Iran as well as Turkey, Sri Lanka, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine.

No concrete decisions on how to curb immigration were made.

In Geneva, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is suggesting several ways that illegal migration can be reduced at the source. IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy says one way is through information campaigns, in which the prospective emigres are made aware of the dangers involved in an attempt to enter the Union illegally. Many lives are lost, for instance, through marine accidents en route to Europe. Sometimes ruthless human traffickers abandon immigrants to drift at sea.

A second way is to stiffen legislation in the countries of origin, to increase the punishments for human traffickers.

But Chauzy also points out there is another way: "The other way is by managing migration properly, by putting in place programs to manage migration flows [legally]. Italy last year had a labor migration program for people from Albania, a small pilot program. It involved 5,000 Albanians or people from the Balkans to work in agriculture, construction, and the tourist industry in Italy, and obviously the people selected for that program were not irregular migrants."

The Italian program was deemed a success. It could serve as a model for broader programs which would serve the needs of both the migrants, who are desperate to earn money, and the host community, where labor is in demand.