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EU: Prodi Welcomes Putting Immigration On Top Of Summit Agenda

Brussels, 18 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, today welcomed the decision by the current Spanish presidency of the European Union to move the fight against illegal immigration to the top of this weekend's summit in Seville.

Prodi said controlling immigration and streamlining asylum policies is an "extremely important matter," adding that the mounting "concerns and anxieties" of EU citizens must be addressed: "We have to help to put in order legal immigration, we have to be severe with illegal immigration. Also, we have to ask our friends -- the friendly countries [with which] we have agreements -- to organize cooperation, and we have to have mutual engagement."

Prodi appears to support a proposal -- backed by a majority of EU member states, but not by either France or Sweden -- to apply sanctions to non-EU countries which do not cooperate with the EU in curbing illegal immigration. Disagreement over the issue at yesterday's EU foreign ministers' meeting prevented agreement on the wider package of measures, meaning EU leaders must tackle the problem at their Seville summit this weekend.

Prodi said the Seville summit should take immediate steps necessary to strengthen the control of the EU's external borders. He said the bloc should begin by encouraging the various authorities responsible for border management to meet and agree on common priorities. In the longer term, the European Commission has proposed a more ambitious "border strategy" which envisages a common EU corps of border guards and integrated visa and passport formats.

Prodi went on to say the EU should "bring to asylum and migration the same commitment that helped us respond so quickly to the events of 11 September."

He added, however, that a focus on the security of EU citizens should not lead to "demonizing" the associated concerns. According to Prodi, the "harmonious integration" of already existing migrant populations must not be neglected. Also, Prodi said, the EU must acknowledge that legal immigration is "good for an ageing Europe."

Prodi also announced plans to reform the European Commission after the enlargement by increasing the number of vice presidents and cutting back on the meetings of the full group of commissioners. Prodi rejected suggestions that the creation of a "directorate" of vice presidents could significantly increase the influence of the bigger member states.

Contrary to expectations, Prodi virtually ignored the issue of enlargement -- initially expected to constitute the central concern of the Seville summit. When prompted, Prodi said he was convinced that up to 10 candidate countries would be given "the green light" in December to join the EU. He discounted budgetary worries which have recently threatened to destabilize the enlargement process, saying he remains "very serene" in the belief that there are adequate resources to cover the costs until 2006 when the EU's current budgetary cycle comes to an end.