EU summit opens in Halkidiki

European Union leaders yesterday gathered for the start of the three-day biennial summit at the Porto Carras hotel resort, about 150 kilometers (93 miles) southeast of Thessaloniki. The EU leaders hope to tackle an ambitious agenda, which includes the question of migration, a new European Constitution, relations with the United States and the appointment of a successor to the head of the European Central Bank. The meeting is taking place under stringent security measures, which many consider a test for next year’s Olympics. At the same time, at least 50,000 protesters are expected to march, in separate rallies, in protest against what they see as the EU leaders’ «racist» exclusionary social and economic policies. The focus of authorities, as usual in these summits, is on the few hundred potential troublemakers, often associated with the anarchist Black Block. While most of the protests will be confined to Thessaloniki, measures have been taken to prevent protesters from approaching the site of the summit: a 3-kilometer-long fence around the hotel complex and a metal barrier off the coast. To guard against terrorists, even anti-aircraft missiles have been set up. During the first session, late last night, EU leaders focused on immigration and asylum policies. «We agreed that we need a far more effective policy,» Prime Minister Costas Simitis said at a press conference last night. Final decisions on the subject will be taken tonight; issues under discussion include financial support for the Mediterranean countries which are the most vulnerable to immigrant inflows; the return of illegal immigrants to their countries of origin; and cooperation with countries where immigrants come from. The European countries will try to find a compromise between suppression – notably demanded by the United Kingdom, which has presented a controversial proposal for detention camps – and aid to poorer countries. Concerning the EU’s Mediterranean members, the Commission has approved 140 million euros in an aid package to these countries. The UK proposal for detention camps is not likely to be approved, but, as a compromise, the EU may threaten to impose sanctions on these countries, such as China, which do nothing to curtail emigration. Last night’s discussions also dealt with Iraq, the Middle East and security issues. Simitis focused more on the EU’s determination to back the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, a sign, perhaps, that, once again, no consensus has been reached on Iraq. European Parliament speaker Pat Cox briefed the summit leaders about the Parliament’s views on the European Constitution, a draft of which will be presented by European Convention President Valery Giscard d’Estaing. The summit will be attended today by future and candidate EU members. Last night, the Turkish Parliament approved a number of reforms demanded by the EU ensuring that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul will attend the summit today. Tomorrow, the EU leaders will also meet leaders from western Balkan countries (Serbia and Montenegro, Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Bosnia). Contrary to expectations, the summit did not discuss the replacement of European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg yesterday. The start of the summit was delayed yesterday when threat of a downpour forced several EU leaders to travel from Thessaloniki to Porto Carras by road, instead of by helicopter.

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