G5 leaders agree on biometric
Correspondents in Florence
OCTOBER 19, 2004
INTERIOR ministers from the five largest western European states have broadly agreed to introduce biometric identifiers into passports to make them more difficult to forge.
The ministers, meeting here since Sunday, also agreed to pool ininformation intelligence to create and update a common watch-list, sources close to the talks said yesterday.
The five ministers agreed in principle on the idea at their last informal summit, in Sheffield, England, last July. However, the sources said this is the first time they and their respective police and intelligence agencies have agreed to implement the information exchange on a systematic basis.
Italian interior ministry officials said there was also broad agreement on the introduction of digital fingerprinting and face recognition biometrics for all European Union passports to make them more difficult to forge.
They said the measure would be in force "before the end of 2006," though it must be formally approved at a future EU summit. Broad agreement on the measures aleady exists across the 25-member bloc, they said.
Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu is hosting his counterparts David Blunkett of Britain, Otto Schily of Germany, Dominique de Villepin of France and Jose Antonio Alonso of Spain at the talks. The ministers were to hold a press conference at the end of their talks on Monday.
But they remained deeply split over a controversial plan to create holding centres for Europe-bound migrants in Africa.
France and Spain are fiercely opposed to the plan, first mooted in August, and two working sessions on Sunday failed to placate their officials.
French sources said the participants were as far apart as ever on a joint German-Italian plan to create the centres in a bid to stem a seemingly unstoppable tide of illegal immigration from North Africa.
Paris has rejected the idea of transit camps, fearing the proposed desert information centres "could become a sort of time-bomb for our countries," a French diplomatic source said.
Such camps would have "a perverse affect" and residents "would come to hate Europe", the source added.
Several ministers held bilateral talks on Sunday night and scheduled more for early Monday in a bid to find a compromise.
Spain's minister Alonso said Sunday that Madrid "fears that these camps could become places where human rights would not be respected."
Human rights organisations have likened the idea to creating "concentration camps" in the desert.
Germany's minister Otto Schily hit out at that suggestion yesterday.
"It is misleading to constantly talk of refugee camps. I call them holding camps. In other words, a place for people who want to apply for asylum."
Editor's note: If we all stayed away from these five countries for tourism, they would soon understand that their idea was counterproductive, and so would abandon it.