The Spanish government said Friday it wanted to collaborate with the United Nations on launching a campaign in Senegal warning about the dangers of illegal immigration. The plan was announced as European ministers held a key immigration conference in Madrid.

Spain's deputy prime minister, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, told reporters that the campaign in Senegal would stress alternatives to illegal immigration to Europe. The issue became a major problem in Europe this year, after tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, most of them from Africa, arrived on the shores of Spain and other European countries.

The remarks by Fernadez de la Vegas coincided with an immigration meeting in the Spanish capital bringing together representatives of eight southern European countries. While virtually all European governments agree that illegal immigration poses a major problem, they are at odds over how to tackle it.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, for example, has criticized a mass legalization of immigrants under Spain's socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. The Spanish government has defended its policy.

But those differences were smoothed over Friday, as Sarkozy praised Spanish suggestions that European countries work jointly to expel illegal immigrants from their borders.

Sarkozy said adopting a common approach to illegal immigration was the best signal Europe could send to criminal and mafia rings that prey on people's poverty and misery.

Considered a likely candidate in French presidential elections next year, Sarkozy has adopted a tough stance on immigration, vowing to sharply increase the number of illegals expelled from France this year. Last week, he signed an agreement with Dakar to make it easier for Senegalese students and entrepreneurs to enter France, but the agreement also required illegal immigrants to be repatriated to Senegal.