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Immigration Dominates EU Summit

European Union leaders on Saturday reached an agreement to combat illegal immigration and immigrant smuggling by operating joint border patrols. The EU has also set a timeline for establishing a joint asylum policy.


Close but no cigar: The EU has delayed decisions on many policies debated in Seville

European Union leaders meeting in Seville, Spain, on Saturday watered down plans to shake up the way European Union summits reach decisions and to reform the rotating EU presidency system in the lead-up to EU enlargement in their closing statement.

But they did agree to a crackdown on illegal immigration -- including the introduction of joint border patrols -- by the end of this year. The 15 EU leaders also set deadlines in 2002 and 2003 for agreements to create a common asylum policy.

Additionally, they pledged to finalize the financing for the ten candidate countries that are likely to enter the EU after 2004, though the German government has said it will only ratify the agreements after national elections in September.

"Enlargement is such a high priority in political terms that we must do everything in our power to achieve it," German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said. "I, for one, am under no circumstances willing to let it fail because of petty wrangling over farming subsidies."

But the wrangling is almost certain to continue. The chancellor himself has been among the most outspoken critics of the EU's common agriculture policy. He has said reforming the EU's agricultural subsidies policy is essential in order to make enlargement economically feasible. Otherwise, he has argued, the costs will soar and economic stability among current EU members will be imperriled.

Schröder's message has been largely well-received in existing member states. But it's been met with concern by candidate countries like Poland that fear their farmers will get considerably less than those already in the EU.

Fortress Europe

Immigration served as the most hotly debated policy arena at the two-day summit. In recent months, right-wing populist parties across Western Europe have exploited the issue with great success in elections. EU leaders sought wrestle control of the public debate on immigration away from the populists by making it a dominant theme at the Seville summit.

Spain, which currently holds the rotating six-month EU presidency, had argued for a tough line on immigration to ease European fears of being overrun by foreigners.

But pressure from France in particular is said to have led hardliners on immigration, led by Spain and Britain, to back away from the harshest proposals.

Originally, the two countries had called for a plan in which developing countries that fail to stop their citizens from fleeing to Europe would be subjected to monetary sanctions, but the French, along with Sweden and Luxembourg, said that plan could backfire. Cuts in development aid would only serve to further impoverish the countries and give their people more reasons to leave, the countries argued.

What is clear from the meeting is that the EU also needs help from the countries of origin in order to solve the problem. Still, disagreements over the nature of sanctions that could be used to enforce cooperation continue to simmer.

"Regardless of whether we formally decide on this or not, this will have an effect on the way in which we deal with each other," said German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. "The golden rule of international politics is: you reap what you sow."

Even though the number of asylum seekers is declining across Europe, the problem of professional rings smuggling in illegal immigrants has become an exasperating for the Union. In the past year, the issue has been highlighted by the dangerous jet-boat trafficking of people from the Balkans into Italy and Greece and the often deadly passage of immigrants through the Channel Tunnel connecting France to England, which has more liberal asylum laws.

But as Europe grapples with the problem, it must avoid creating the image that the Union is anti-immigrant. With an aging and shrinking population, it will become more necessary in the future for Europe to open its doors to more foreigners who can work and support social insurance programs with the taxes they pay.

In a separate development, another two bombs went off in Spain on Saturday, taking the total to five bombs in two days. The Spanish government accused the Basque separatist group ETA of setting off the bombs in an effort to disrupt the Seville summit and attract world-wide attention to its cause.

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