Straw looks to EU's future frontiers

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The Independent Online

Britain tabled plans yesterday to try to prevent crime, drugs and illegal immigrants spilling across the European Union's new eastern borders when it admits up to 10 more countries as soon as 2004.

The scheme, which was discussed by EU foreign ministers, highlights the concern over the huge change to Europe's frontiers if enlargement proceeds. Poland alone has a 1,200km (745-mile) frontier with Belarus and Ukraine, which is likely to become part of the EU's eastern border in 2004. Further down the line, when Romania joins the EU, Moldova will also be a neighbour.

The British want to spread some of the benefits of prosperity rather than to erect a new – and inevitably porous – wall across Europe. One diplomat argued: "The lesson from the past is that if you do not increase the prosperity of the neighbouring countries, then you will have their people at your doorstep."

British thinking is outlined in a letter from Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, to Josep Pique, the Foreign Minister of Spain, which holds the EU presidency. Mr Straw says he is "preoccupied" with the situation in the three potential EU neighbours: Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova.

"Ukraine and Moldova's record on reform is mixed. Belarus is going backwards," he says. Britain wants the three to be given "special neighbour status", including free trade rights with the EU, and a close relationship on border, justice, home affairs, security and defence issues.