EU states to draft tough border security laws

EUROPEAN UNION leaders ordered their governments yesterday to draft tough new border security measures including the fingerprinting and screening of all visitors who cross the 27-nation bloc’s borders.

The heads of state told their administrations to draft legislation on tougher new border measures, which include using a satellite system to keep out illegal immigrants and the introduction of a web-based pre-travel authorisation system for foreigners. That proposal would be drafted by 2010.

Such efforts have been met with growing international concern that Europe could be curbing privacy rights and the rights of those seeking refugee status in the EU.

Some of the border upgrades are similar to those adopted by the United States.

The EU screening would apply to both people who need visas to enter EU nations, such as visitors from most African nations, and those who do not need visas, such as US citizens.

The proposals, if approved by all EU governments, would represent one of the largest security overhauls in the European Union and could cost billions of euro.

“Modern technologies must be harnessed to improve the management of external borders,” the leaders said.

Setting common security standards at airports, harbours and land border checks is meant to filter out illegal immigrants and catch criminals and terror suspects before they enter the EU’s passport-free travel zone.

Progress on crafting other common immigration rules has been bogged down by the complexity of aligning national immigration rules and strong disagreement over whether national authorities should give up control over who they let into their countries.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he would make immigration one of his top priorities when he takes over the EU presidency from Slovenia next month.

Yesterday’s agreement is meant to revitalise efforts to draft common immigration standards, first launched by leaders in 1999.

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

The renewed commitment comes a day after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez criticised a new EU law on returning illegals, which is part of the EU immigration plans.

The new EU rules set loose Europe-wide standards on how to treat the detention of illegal migrants and expel them.

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

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

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.


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