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EU: Summit To Focus On Immigration

Seville, 21 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders of the European Union are set today to open a summit expected to focus on the fight to curb illegal immigration. They will consider several proposals at the two-day meeting in Spain's southern city of Seville. They are expected to discuss boosting border patrols, improving cooperation among countries on visas, and sending help to Italy, Spain, and Greece. The three countries face a large influx of illegal immigrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Africa, the Mideast, and the Balkans.

Other proposals call for sharing the costs of border controls and using naval ships and planes to track and intercept boats carrying illegal aliens.

EU efforts to stem illegal immigration come amid rising support in several EU nations for right-wing, anti-immigration politicians.

The issue of funding the EU's eastward expansion also is on the agenda.

Also, European Union finance ministers have approved a deal requiring all EU states to bring their national budgets close to balance by 2004. The deal was approved early today in Madrid, Spain.

The EU had postponed the adoption of the guidelines mainly over France's reluctance to balance its budget by 2004. France says it will adhere to the agreement on the condition of an economic growth rate of around 3 percent over the next two years.

The agreement aims at ensuring that the euro will remain strong by preventing overspending by member countries. It requires euro-zone states to keep their budget deficits below 3 percent of their gross domestic products (GDPs).

Several EU countries had suggested the bloc adopt a compromise formula instead of insisting on a strict budget balance by the 2004 deadline.

Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded today in the Spanish southern coastal town of Fuengirola, injuring at least five people.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but reports said police had received a warning from an anonymous caller who spoke in the name of the outlawed Basque separatist group, ETA.

The explosion came hours before the start of the summit of European Union leaders in Seville, about 160 kilometers to the northwest of Fuengirola.