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EU endorses tougher border security rules

Proposal spurs concerns over privacy rights

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Constant Brand
Associated Press / June 21, 2008

BRUSSELS - European Union leaders want their nations to fingerprint all foreign visitors and take other new steps to keep out illegal immigrants as part of a sweeping security overhaul proposed yesterday.

The measures are similar to those already in place in the United States, and have prompted concerns about privacy and the rights of those seeking refugee status in the EU. But EU leaders suggested security is paramount.

At a summit, they said crafting a common border and immigration policy for Europe by 2010 "is a key priority for citizens" and pushed efforts to reach agreement to the top of their political agenda.

In a declaration yesterday, the EU leaders ordered their governments to draft legislation on tougher new border security measures to ease the way toward a more seamless immigration and asylum policy.

These would include fingerprinting and screening for all visitors who cross the bloc's borders and using a satellite system to keep out illegal immigrants.

The proposed measures would apply to everyone: Those who need a visa to enter EU nations, such as visitors from most African nations, as well as those who do not, such as US citizens.

Foreign tourists on Paris's Champs-Elysees seemed to shrug off the plans as part of the new world security landscape.

"I'm all right with fingerprinting, since I suppose it will enhance safety," said Gary Gordon, a lawyer from Lansing, Mich.

Florida teacher Bridget Schmidt said she had no problem with fingerprinting, but added, "I don't feel any safer in the United States because they fingerprint people."

If all 27 EU governments approve all the immigration and security proposals mentioned in yesterday's declaration, that would represent one of the largest security overhauls in the European Union and could cost billions of dollars.

The EU leaders brushed off heated criticism from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez of a related new law requiring the return of illegal immigrants.

Chávez threatened Thursday to cut off oil and bar investment opportunities to EU nations if they applied the new rules, which were passed by the European Parliament.

He said the EU law would lead to mass deportations of migrants who would have to be housed in "concentration camps" until they were expelled.

The rules do not foresee that, but set out basic rights, including access to food, shelter, and legal advice to illegal immigrants and bind EU nations not to detain them for more than 18 months before deportation or releasing them.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg laughed off the threat. "As far as I know, Venezuela supplies oil mostly to the US . . . so it would not be that much of a deal," he said.

Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who chaired the summit, said the reaction of Chavez was "perhaps exaggerated, perhaps they come from not understanding well enough what this means."

Jansa also insisted the broader new proposals adopted by EU leaders yesterday would not curb personal freedoms.

"This directive might be a problem for some but it is a step toward a solution on this issue, so that the EU can really provide for liberties, freedoms on which it is based, without jeopardizing these freedoms," he said.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has said he would make immigration a top priority when his country takes over the EU presidency from Slovenia next month.

The EU leaders said they would intensify work on approving measures that include how to attract highly skilled workers, what rights to give non-European residents, and signing pacts with other countries to ensure they take back illegals caught in the EU.

"Modern technologies must be harnessed to improve the management of external borders," the leaders said. They asked their justice and interior ministers to present border proposals, including an Internet-based pretravel authorization system for foreigners by 2010.

Setting common security standards at airports, harbors, and land-border checks is meant to filter out illegals and catch crime gangs and terror suspects before they enter the EU's 24-nation passport-free travel zone.

WHAT ARE THE MEASURES?

Screening and fingerprinting all visitors who cross the bloc's borders, as well as satellite surveillance to monitor borders.

WHO IS AFFECTED?

Everyone, even if they do not need visas to enter, such as US citizens.

HOW MUCH WILL THIS COST?

Pending approval from all 27 member governments, the massive overhaul could cost billions.

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