EU leaders focus on Mideast peace, trans-Atlantic ties
Friday, June 20, 2003
PORTO CARRAS, Greece -- Guarded by attack helicopters, warships and thousands of troops, European leaders gathered Thursday at a secluded seaside resort for a three-day summit to discuss Middle East peace, illegal immigration, and the contentious draft of a first-ever European Union constitution.
Apache helicopter gunships darted over the pristine beaches to escort lumbering transport helicopters that ferried leaders from the airport at Thessaloniki to this meeting site about 60 miles to the southeast. The opening session was delayed for about an hour because rain interrupted the helicopter schedule.
The summit was moved from Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city, because of fears about anti-globalization protests. Thousands of protesters gathered at a government-erected tent city in Thessaloniki for a massive demonstration planned for today.
Greece, which hands over the rotating EU presidency to Italy next month, is anxious to show that it can deal with threats from both protesters and terrorists before it hosts the Olympics in Athens next year.
An anti-aircraft missile battery protects the hotel where leaders are staying from air attack; a frigate, two corvettes and 25 coast guard patrol boats monitor the adjacent Gulf of Kassandra, and frogmen scour the seabed. Lines of cargo containers and nets stop any beachgoers from approaching.
The summit's packed agenda reflects the many problems facing the 15-nation EU as it prepares to welcome 10 new members, mostly former communist countries, next May. Those problems include the need to heal the wounds in trans-Atlantic relations after key countries such as France and Germany refused to back the U.S.-British war in Iraq.
Leaders must also grapple with the problem of illegal immigration and how to separate genuine asylum candidates from those simply seeking jobs and social benefits in rich Western Europe.
Although border checks within most of the EU have been abandoned, EU officials say about $163 million will be needed over the next three years to bolster security along the frontiers of non-EU countries.
Leaders also were to take up a controversial British plan to set up trial refugee centers outside EU countries in an effort to stem the flow of illegal immigrants.
Demonstrators carried empty coffins and barbed wired cages through Thessaloniki on Thursday to protest the immigration restrictions.
More than 6,000 marchers chanting "freedom not jail cells" filed past boarded-up stores.
The protesters plan to challenge a security cordon around the summit site in Porto Carras today.
Also Friday, the leaders will review a new strategy paper drafted by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who is expected to urge closer cooperation between Europe and the United States to deal with global security threats.
"The European Union should be ready to share in the responsibility for global security," Solana said in the paper, which was obtained by The Associated Press. Solana urged the EU to be more active in dealing with poverty, terrorism, AIDS, mass destruction weapons and other problems.
"This will allow us to be equal partners in a dialogue with the United States," Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said.
Also Friday, the leaders will review a draft EU constitution that was completed a week ago after 16 months of negotiations. The charter aims to streamline decision-making within the EU. It calls for an EU president, a foreign minister, and a more effective European Commission, the EU's executive.