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EU: Seville Summit To Focus Largely On Immigration Issues

The European Union summit in the southern Spanish city of Seville will be preoccupied this weekend with stemming illegal immigration. Leaders of the bloc are expected to adopt concrete proposals and set a timetable for framing a common asylum policy. Eastward enlargement, now pushed out of the limelight, may also be discussed.

Prague, 19 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Driven by the pressure of right-wing electoral victories around the continent, 15 European Union leaders, at their summit in the Spanish city of Seville on 21 and 22 June, are expected to take strong action to control illegal immigration, which is now estimated to be running at about half a million people a year.

Likely measures include steps to strengthen border patrols, increase cooperation on visas, and to give special assistance to the southern EU states of Italy, Spain, and Greece, which are the entry points for most of the illegal migrants.

One further measure, which is subject to disagreement, is whether to apply sanctions to non-EU countries that do not cooperate with Brussels in stopping illegal immigration into the union. Britain, Spain, and Denmark are among those supporting such action.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said "it's obvious that the EU needs a tool" to ensure, for instance, that such countries are prepared to take back their nationals deported from the EU. As British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, speaking earlier this week in Luxembourg, put it: "It's entirely reasonable that we should seek to use all appropriate levers to ensure that [immigrants' home] countries do their bit. They may not be able to stop economic migration out, but for sure they can help to ensure that people who are rejected as asylum seekers are taken back and properly accommodated."

But Sweden, France, and Luxembourg do not favor the imposition of sanctions. Sweden's minister for immigration, Jan Karlsson, told RFE/RL that: "There have been proposals that we should exert pressure by, for instance, diminishing development aid, and things like that. And we don't believe in that. And we think that, first of all, it's counterproductive. It's the sort of conditionality that we have been discussing for many, many years in development policy, and this has proved also to be very inefficient."

Karlsson said his country favors what it considers a more constructive approach, which he said also appears to be gaining favor with Britain and France. "We should try to make a win-win game out of it. That is, that we should stimulate the countries that will not agree with us on the [issue] of taking back their people; stimulate them to do so, rather than punish them," Karlsson said.

On a related topic, Karlsson said Sweden does not favor the creation of a common EU border guard. He called this unnecessary in view of the "huge task" of integrating up to 10 new Eastern European member states. He suggested that the task of harmonizing the asylum policies and border-control methods of these countries will be big enough by itself without spending effort on the creation of a European border guard.

Originally, the Seville summit was to have concentrated on the EU's eastward enlargement. However, that issue has been largely overshadowed by the preoccupation to formulate more effective immigration and asylum controls.

Nevertheless, the summit is expected to issue a statement that assures the mainly Eastern European candidate countries that their membership applications remain on track. European Commission President Romano Prodi said this week that he's very optimistic that the go-ahead will be given to admit up to 10 countries in December.

Membership of the 10 is tentatively set for 2004, but there have been renewed fears recently that serious disagreements among present member states over agricultural policy may derail that timetable.

Analysts say the burning issue of illegal immigration has also pushed into the background the EU's attempts to formulate a new policy for legal immigration. As researcher Joanna Apap of the Center for European Policy Studies said, "With respect to normal immigration per se, which is not linked to asylum in any way, it's been pretty well blocked so far."

Apap said that because of opposition from the member states, the European Commission has weakened elements of its plans to create a clear pro-immigration program, based on the premise that the aging populations of Europe will make planned immigration necessary. "The commission has just redrafted the proposal for a directive on family reunification, and unfortunately, it has been extremely watered down, which means it gives very little by way of rights [for immigrants] to be reunited with their families in the union," Apap said.

She said family reunifications are an important element of the plans for a legal immigration policy, because that process accounts for about 65 percent of the present legal immigration into the EU.

Another topic of discussion at the Seville summit is expected to be commission President Prodi's plans for reform of the commission. Prodi said this week that reforms designed to streamline the workings of the commission must take place to avoid paralysis when the European Union is enlarged.