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EU: Summit Considers Measures Against Illegal Immigration

European Union leaders meeting in the Spanish city of Seville today have focused on ways to stem the flow of illegal immigrants at the start of a two-day summit. RFE/RL reports that participants appear to have agreed to drop a controversial proposal that would have penalized third countries that do not help the EU curb illegal immigration.

Seville, 21 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- European Union leaders meeting in Seville today discussed a raft of measures designed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the EU.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, speaking for the outgoing EU presidency, said all member states support the aim of creating a "genuinely common" EU policy on immigration and asylum. Pique said the EU would put particular emphasis on cooperation with those non-EU countries most likely to contribute to the problem.

"We are aware of the fact that similarly to legal immigration, illegal immigration too has deep-rooted causes. That's why we want to have a broad approach, to use development aid to lessen the problems of the countries which are either the sources or transit channels for immigration. This is an essential element of the common European policy which we are intending to create," Pique said.

According to the unofficial estimates of the European Commission, 500,000 illegal immigrants enter the EU every year. The bloc is thought to be home to about 3 million clandestine residents.

A Spanish draft of tomorrow's final communique, obtained by RFE/RL, indicates EU leaders have abandoned a controversial plan to apply sanctions on third countries that do not help the EU curb illegal immigration.

Negative sanctions affecting trade and EU aid were championed by Spain and the Britain, but fiercely resisted by France, Sweden, Luxembourg, and to a lesser degree by Finland. While the last three appear more concerned with the potentially negative effects the sanctions would have on the social and economic development of poorer countries, France is thought to be more interested in not complicating relations with former colonies in Africa and elsewhere.

The draft document dropped any references to sanctions that were present in earlier drafts this week. Instead, it says it would be difficult for the EU and its members to deepen relations with countries that do not cooperate with the EU.

Today, Spanish Foreign Minister Pique appeared to confirm the toning down of the EU's intentions, saying that, although the EU reserves the right to act against such countries, it also recognizes the overwhelming need to eradicate poverty in countries that are the main source of immigrants. He did say, however, that the EU would in future treat noncompliance with its demands on immigration in a similar fashion as human-rights infringements or the sponsoring of terrorism.

Pique said EU leaders would issue a communique tomorrow calling for increased action in four broad areas.

First, the communique will emphasize the need to harmonize legislation in member states to achieve a "genuinely common" immigration and asylum policy. Steps toward such a policy were initiated already in 1999 at the Tampere summit, but Pique today said little progress had been achieved until now.

Second, the communique will outline an "action plan" of practical measures like pooling visa data, harmonizing repatriation programs for illegal immigrants, and setting uniform standards for dealing with traffickers in human beings.

Third, tomorrow's document will outline the first steps toward an integrated system of managing the EU's external borders. Pique today said a common corps of border guards remains a medium- to long-term aim, with some member states harboring reservations about the plan that was floated a few weeks ago by the European Commission. But, he said, all member states agree that individuals and authorities responsible for border management should be "brought together" more often, and common training schemes set up.

Finally, discussing cooperation with third countries, the document is likely to demand improved use of development aid and other types of assistance. Pique said there was broad consensus among member states that "the right to a better life" of prospective immigrants must be counterbalanced by vastly improved integration of existing immigrants in the EU.