- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

SEVILLE, Spain European Union leaders moved during the weekend to establish an EU border police force to patrol shores, ports and crossing points against illegal immigrants.
The heads of government said the decisions were a steppingstone to the creation of a continentwide force, which would act in tandem with each nation's police to patrol European coasts.
The proposals were introduced at a Seville summit despite the opposition of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who suffered the rejection of his rival plan to counter illegal immigration by withdrawing aid from uncooperative Third World countries.
The move toward a common border force, to be called the European Union Corps of Border Guards, was given an enthusiastic welcome by most. The European leaders agreed to set up a series of working groups to hone proposals made by Italy for the force, which would have its own uniform and badge and be drawn from all 15 member states. It could be in place by 2007.
As an early step, cooperation among the police and immigration units of member states is to be enhanced immediately.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said enhanced cooperation was a first step toward the corps. "The creation of a common police force to guard our border remains the long-term goal," he told reporters at the close of the two-day European Council.
Antonio Vitorino, the EU's Justice Commissioner, said he expected the border force to become a reality within five years. "It is a gradual process that will start with the mere coordination of efforts that could evolve quickly so that in the medium term, in four to five years, it will be possible to have a European border-guard force," he said.
The proposal is the latest attempt to harmonize Europe's legal systems. It follows moves to create a common body of criminal law across the EU and to increase the powers of investigation, including search warrants, handed to the Europol agency.
European leaders have been rattled by the growing outcry about illegal immigration and the rise of hard-line parties in recent elections.
The border-patrol plan was taken up after Italy released the results of a detailed, eight-month feasibility study. At its core was a 15-day trial last month during which guards from all 15 member states joined forces to patrol borders in France, Italy and Spain, including 24 airports.
Officers on the teams succeeded in stopping 4,500 illegal immigrants and arrested 34 trafficking suspects during the study.
Italy and Spain are among several states that are desperate for the EU to pool its resources and share the burden of guarding their immensely long coastlines against a flood of human traffic.
Ministers of EU member states and the 13 EU candidate countries agreed at a meeting in Lisbon last month to set up a task force to coordinate efforts to curb illegal immigration at Europe's busiest airports and seaports. The body is expected to develop Italy's plans for a common force.
British critics of European integration said that moves toward a single EU border police were a prelude to a fully integrated EU force.
Daniel Hannan, a Conservative member of the European Parliament, said, "As usual, they are presenting something which on the face of it seems reasonable, as a way of establishing a harmonizing principle.
"In this instance, they are being particularly clever, since they have chosen an area that has traditionally been a concern of the right," he said. "In fact, the asylum crisis is the result of a previous integration of immigration policy, and more of the same is not the solution."


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