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Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Immigration tops Seville agenda
Illegal immigrants intercepted off Canary Islands
Spain is pressing hard for action on immigrants

The European Union summit in the southern Spanish city of Seville will have at the top of its agenda the problem of refugees and asylum seekers.

This has suddenly become an urgent issue for European governments, with many of them passing laws to close their door tighter against illegal immigrants.


Seville is a chance to take stock and take decisions

But there is still no common EU policy despite a commitment to have one, reached at a meeting in Finland three years ago. Member states have differing rules for dealing with migrants when they arrive and differing rules for sending back those whose applications for refuge fail.

Seville is a chance to take stock and take decisions. The chairman and host of the summit, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, has signalled the importance of the issue by placing it first on the table at the opening round of talks on Friday.

Spain and Britain have been pressing hard for action. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the House of Commons in a pre-summit speech: "We must inject a new urgency into our commitments".

'Positive conditionality'

Britain has put forward a three part plan:

  • Reduce the numbers coming in by "encouraging" poorer countries to co-operate in measures to reduce the flow.

  • Agree common standards so that more get sent home more quickly. Britain wants a joint approach on returning Afghan refugees now that the war there is largely over. It also wants to make countries which "tolerate" refugees to take responsibility for them. This, it is hoped, would force the French to close the camp at Sangatte near Calais.

  • Strengthen the EU's border and use EU money for that purpose.

The most contentious part is the implicit warning to poor countries that, as Mr Straw put it, "co-operation with the EU in this field is of the utmost importance."

To some, these sound like the words of a protection gang. France and Sweden said that it was "blackmail."

Sangatte refugee camp
Britain wants to force the closure of Sangatte
It is now being given a more positive spin by British ministers who have taken to calling it "positive conditionality". Countries reluctant to help will not have their aid reduced, they say, but they won't get extra aid as a reward.

Mr Aznar said he had found "virtually global" consensus on the principles of a common approach in a swing around European capitals.

However, principles do not always translate into practice in the EU.

Enlargement

Another issue for discussion is the working of the EU itself. A discussion papers says that the summits are too big and too long and wants them cut down to one day (though with a dinner the previous evening). It also wants television cameras to be allowed in for some of the talks, though not the secret haggling.

The idea is to bring the people closer to the decision makers, a goal still unachieved after many years.

Among other subjects will be enlargement, the accession of 10 new members in 2004. They will be assured that negotiations are on track.

But this assurance hides a serious problem which is the level of support the EU will give to farmers in the new member states.

Poland is already complaining that it will not be enough. It says that this is unfair.

The EU - especially Germany which pays so many of the bills - responds that it could bankrupt the club.

In true EU style, the problem has been put off to later in the year. The sunshine of Seville will not be overshadowed.


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20 Jun 02 | Europe
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