- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

SEVILLE, Spain European Union leaders, after watching a string of far-right politicians elected across the Continent, agreed yesterday to tighten border controls in an effort to reduce the flow of migrants trying to enter the bloc illegally every year.

But leaders backed away from threatening poor countries with sanctions for not stopping the illegal migration of about half a million people every year.

Instead, EU members agreed to boost border defenses along land borders with Eastern Europe and the Balkans, and in the Mediterranean Sea near Spain, Italy and Greece. That effort will include strengthened border patrols, joint training and shared intelligence.

"Europe must no longer be the victim of uncontrolled flows of migrants," French President Jacques Chirac said.

The union will also accelerate plans to tighten visa regulations, use common rules for handling asylum requests, quicken deportation procedures and toughen sentences on people-smugglers, who often exploit immigrants as cheap labor or sex workers.

Immigration topped the summit agenda after a number of election scares or gains by far-right politicians such as France's Jean-Marie Le Pen and Austria's Joerg Haider.

"People know there is a serious problem in Europe," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said. "Moderate people of the center-left or center-right have to tackle this issue, or the extremists will exploit it."

But radical proposals threatening cuts in aid or trade privileges for countries with lax controls on migrants were opposed by France and Sweden, who argued that the cuts would only increase the poverty spurring people to emigrate.

Campaigners concerned about human rights welcomed the softer approach.

"The threat of sanctions highlighted how distorted the EU's policies were becoming," said Dick Oosting, director of Amnesty International's EU Office. "The war against 'illegal immigration' had clearly become overheated."

EU leaders said the sanctions option could be revived if countries persistently did not help.

"If countries refuse to cooperate, we'll consider any reasonable option," Mr. Blair warned.

The midyear summit also did not end a dispute between Greece and Turkey that is holding up EU plans to develop a military wing with 60,000 peacekeepers.

Hopes for a breakthrough rose after Greece lifted its objections to a deal granting the European force access to vital NATO military planning in return for NATO member Turkey receiving the right to veto European military operations in its region.

But then Turkey objected to wording changes meant to placate Greece.

That left the issue unresolved and cast doubt on the bloc's ability to meet its commitment to begin its first military mission in October by relieving NATO peacekeepers in Macedonia.

Mr. Chirac, Mr. Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the leaders of the other 12 EU members also reconfirmed their plan to wrap up membership negotiations with 10 candidate nations by the end of the year.

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