[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 3 September 2007, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
EU meets all its close neighbours
By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Brussels

Benita Ferrero-Waldner
Ms Ferrero-Waldner announced simplified working visa rules
The EU is holding its first conference with 16 neighbouring countries and territories in the former Soviet Union, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) is worth 12bn euros or $16bn dollars over the next seven years.

The EU makes the same offer to all neighbours - money, trade and wide-ranging co-operation - in exchange for economic and political reforms.

But the union is deeply divided over how close it should get to them.

The ENP covers Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine in the east, as well as Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Tunisia to the south.

No open door

About 800 ministers and other officials crammed into one of the European Commission's big conference halls for the ground-breaking conference.

The neighbourhood policy is not for membership, but at the same time, the future is not prejudged
External affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner
The ENP is not designed as a first step towards membership, as EU external affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner explained.

"We want to share with our neighbours those questions like security, stability, prosperity and we want to give them a chance to share with us these very important principles, by giving them an instrument - and the instrument is the neighbourhood policy.

"I clearly always say, the neighbourhood policy is not for membership, but at the same time, the future is not prejudged."

Germany and France insist the neighbourhood policy has nothing to do with enlargement.

"It doesn't open any doors," a German minister said at the conference.

But Poland and other former communist countries, backed by Britain, want the EU to send a clearer signal to Ukraine and Moldova that they would be welcome in the future.

Ukrainian hopes

For Ukraine's ambassador to the EU Roman Shpek, the ENP is simply not enough.

We cannot recognise the ENP as an adequate basis for Ukraine-EU relations
Roman Shpek, Ukrainian ambassador to the EU
"Unfortunately, not only in this case, EU member states don't have a common position. It's natural that different countries have different interests, the same as my country, but for future successful development of neighbourhood policy, it's necessary to recognise that there are two types of neighbours - European neighbours of the EU and neighbours of Europe," he said.

"We cannot recognise the ENP as an adequate basis for Ukraine-EU relations, we can recognise only an instrument that will acknowledge that Ukraine is an integral part of Europe."

If in the east, there are great political expectations from the EU, in the south, it's more about money and trade.

Ministers from Morocco and Algeria also pleaded with the EU to view migration as an opportunity, not just a threat.

Ms Ferrero-Waldner announced a new plan to make it easier for non-European legal migrants to work in Europe, by gradually simplifying visa regulations.

But it's up to each of the 27 EU governments to decide whether they want to join in the programme or not.

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific