EU Justice and Interior ministers on Monday will discuss the future policy course on a wide-ranging security and immigration program that includes controversial proposals for refugee detention camps in Africa.
Illegal immigration on European shores is a sensitive issue
The two-day meeting in Luxembourg which opens Monday is expected to focus on further harmonization on national asylum rules and better exchange of information to fight terrorism.
On the table are plans to create a common EU border guard, a European public prosecutor, as well as coordinating migration policies.
There is little doubt that some of the issues are controversial and are further complicated by widely differing positions held by member states.
Sweden wants wide-ranging European cooperation when it comes to asylum, but not in the field of border security. Germany, on the other hand, is in favor of the EU setting up teams of national border experts who could help member states monitor and protect their borders with non-EU neighbors. These teams are envisaged turning into a European border guard at a later stage.
With similar arguments expected on a host of other delicate issues, the meeting is likely to trigger some lively debates. The border guard idea has been rejected before because some states believe protection of external borders is a national and not an EU matter.
At the heart of the talks are the goals in interior and justice affairs that the European Union has set in the so-called "Hague Program" and would like to see implemented by 2010. The Hague plan is a follow-up of the program adopted at the Tampere European Council in 1999.
German Interior Minister Otto Schily
In addition to the fight against terrorism and the coordination of police and legal forces to that purpose, the EU ministers are also expected to discuss German Interior Minister Otto Schily's controversial proposal to set up detention camps in Africa where asylum applications can be checked and processed outside the EU.
Though France and Spain rejected the proposal during a meeting in Florence recently, Schily has indicated that he is determined to pursue the issue at the meeting in Luxembourg.
"If you stop illegal immigrants from setting sail on the Mediterranean and bring them back to their point of origin, then you have to take care of their accommodation," Schily said recently. "What else can you do? They're not just going to simply disappear. We have to think of something."
Asylum, immigration to be tricky
Sudanese immigrants in the Scilian harbor
The talks on asylum and immigration are expected to be to be the toughest at this week's meeting.
UK Home Secretary David Blunkett has insisted London will not accept a common European Union asylum and immigration system, The Times newspaper reported.
A UK Home Office spokesman was quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying: "We won't sign up to an EU processing centre, any common border guard that would involve taking away our own border controls or any new EU consular service."
The UK and Denmark both have legal "opt-outs" from the EU Justice policies written into the existing treaties.
Agreement on biometric passports
Talks on the issue of introducing biometric data in EU passports, also one of Schily's pet projects, are expected to be much smoother.
The EU, together with non-member states Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, wants to make European passports foolproof by the introduction of a digital photograph and later also allow for digital fingerprints. Experts within the EU are still working on the technology and are expected to conclude their work soon.
"When it comes to selecting technology, we have to make sure that the chosen technology makes identification reliable," Schily said recently. "On the other hand, we have to ensure that the control procedures won't unduly slow down or hinder border crossings."
Ministers will also need to agree in Luxembourg on a timeframe for the introduction of the biometric data. Germany wants to start with a digital photograph by autumn next year.
Swiss to sign Schengen treaty
Monday's meeting of EU ministers will also see Switzerland sign the Schengen agreement and possibly agreement over a proposal to strengthen criminal law against ship pollution.
Three countries, Greece, Cyprus and Malta have been holding up the proposal, which would introduce a ceiling for the maximum fines and set jurisdiction for offences committed outside the territory of a Member State.