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EU Leaders Pledge to Fight Illegal Immigration - 2002-06-22

Leaders of the 15-nation European Union have wrapped up a two-day summit in Seville, Spain, pledging to fight illegal immigration into the wealthy bloc and promising to abide by a timetable to grant membership to 10 eastern and southern European countries by the year 2004. The leaders backed away from a Spanish plan to sanction developing countries that don't curb the exodus of their citizens to EU nations.

Spain, Britain and Italy were forced to water down a proposal to get tough with countries supplying illegal immigrants to the EU, if they failed to stem migration of their nationals and refused to take back those of their citizens who are expelled from Europe.

France and Sweden argued for a more cooperative approach, stressing financial and other assistance to Third World countries to enlist their cooperation to rein in emigrants seeking a better life in the European Union.

The EU leaders also promised to strengthen border controls and adopt a common asylum policy in an attempt to steal the thunder from far-right anti-immigrant political parties that have recently gained success at the polls in several European countries.

In a face-saving gesture to the Spanish hosts, the leaders allowed the final summit communique to say that, if source countries fail repeatedly to prevent their citizens from emigrating to the EU, the bloc reserves the right to retaliate, but only after all 15 EU countries approve such a move.

At a luncheon with their counterparts from 13 countries seeking to join the bloc in the years ahead, the leaders reaffirmed what they described as their determination to keep to a timetable that will allow 10 of those nations to become members by 2004. The idea is to conclude negotiations for entry by the end of this year, and submit the accession treaties to national parliaments in 2003 for ratification.

But the whole enlargement process is clouded by a dispute over aid to farmers in the candidate countries, which has not been solved at this summit.

The European Commission, the EU's executive body, has proposed that farmers in candidate countries receive 25 percent of what their counterparts in current EU members get upon accession to membership of their nations. That has not gone down well with the candidate countries, but it has elicited an even stronger rejection by net contributors to the EU budget, like Germany, Britain and the Netherlands.

They say no payments should be made at all to candidate country farmers, until the EU's generous agricultural subsidies are overhauled entirely.

That argument is resisted by France, which is the biggest net beneficiary of the agricultural subsidies. French President Jacques Chirac, recently re-elected and now riding high with a parliamentary majority in Paris, is dead set against any moves that would hurt French farmers.

The dispute over farm aid is not likely to be discussed again at the EU level, until after Germany holds general elections in late September.

And despite the EU's promises to adhere to its enlargement timetable, whether it actually goes forward hinges on what position a new German government takes.