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2003-06-19 Europe
EU summit to focus on new Constitution
Other topics on the agenda at three-day meeting include illegal immigration, the Middle East and ties with Washington

PORTO CARRAS (Greece) - European leaders arrived at a heavily guarded Greek coastal resort yesterday to debate illegal immigration, the Middle East, their tattered ties with Washington and a contentious draft of a European Union Constitution.

An unprecedented land, air and sea operation by Greek security forces has turned the Chalkidiki peninsula into an impenetrable fortress for the three-day meeting.

The summit is the last major event of Greece's six-month presidency but will be the first serious test of the country's security apparatus ahead of the 2004 Olympics.

It is also set to determine the structure of an enlarged European Union (EU).

Preparations for the EU's biggest expansion to take in 10 members from central and eastern Europe are looming large, as are attempts to patch up rocky ties with the United States over the war in Iraq.

Post-Iraq, divisions are resurfacing - particularly between 'old' and 'new' Europe over the new International Criminal Court in The Hague and US efforts to secure immunity for its citizens from any war-crimes prosecution.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been forced on the back foot over claims that he exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to justify war, while his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi - set to assume the EU presidency in two weeks - has also taken aim at French President Jacques Chirac over their different approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On the eve of the summit, Finland's Prime Minister Anneli Jaeaetteenmaeki resigned amid allegations that she lied to Parliament about leaked secret government documents in the run-up to the Iraq war.

There is also dispute over the EU agriculture budget, with heavyweight member France on Wednesday rejecting a new compromise offer designed to reform lavish subsidies paid to farmers.

The European Commission is trying to reform the costly Common Agricultural Policy by severing the link between farmers' production levels and subsidies that eat up nearly half the EU's annual budget of 90 billion euros (S$186 billion).

Immigration is another thorny subject, as the EU has been trying for four years to flesh out a joint asylum and immigration policy but has so far failed to inject enough funds to make any common initiatives credible.

At Porto Carras, the Greek presidency wants to discuss keeping out illegal immigrants while also taking into account Europe's need for cheap labour and more people to boost its ageing population.

Tomorrow, the summit will focus on the Balkans, with Athens keen to highlight the EU prospects of its neighbours from the former Yugoslavia despite concerns over graft and lack of reforms.

But at the heart of the summit is the struggle to craft the final text of the Constitution which sets up the legal framework for the upcoming 25-member political and economic union.

Greek Prime Minister and summit host Costas Simitis said he hoped the talks would 'not restart...the work which has already been done' by the convention. -- AFP, AP
So many things on their to-do list....
Posted by Frank G 2003-06-19 7:41:17 PM|| E-Mail|| Front Page|| [6472 views since 2007-05-07]  Top

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