European Union foreign ministers have failed to agree on whether to threaten sanctions against countries that refuse to help with the 15 nation bloc's fight against illegal immigration. The matter will now go to the EU summit in Seville, Spain, at the end of the week.
Diplomats say many EU nations backed a plan that could involve the suspension of cooperation agreements or a review of aid with countries that do not crack down on people trafficking networks or fail to take back immigrants.
However, France, Sweden and Luxembourg objected to any threat of punishing developing nations that do not cooperate, saying such punishment would be impractical and self-defeating.
Unanimous agreement is needed for approval of such a punishment measure. EU interior ministers agreed last week on a group of steps to tighten Europe's border patrols and increase cooperation on repatriating unwanted immigrants.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was quoted as saying the European Union has to find a balance between the humanitarian debate and the fight against illegal immigration.
It is estimated that about one-half million illegal immigrants enter the European Union each year, along with almost 400,000 asylum seekers. Pressure for immigration reform has been increasing with the recent rise in support for right-wing, anti-immigration politicians in Italy, Austria, France, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, the European Union signed an association pact with Lebanon which provides for regular political talks, economic cooperation, and free trade in industrial goods by the end of the decade. This is just one of eight such pacts intended to establish a free trade zone between EU countries and its Mediterranean neighbors.
There are also deals with Morocco, Tunisia, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt and Algeria.