Waste row prompts EC move on no-border abuses

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FEARS that support is eroding for the Maastricht treaty on European union are providing an impetus for tightening EC co-operation on police and legal matters. Voters in many countries, especially France, are concerned that removing European frontiers will reduce security, but ministers are making efforts to allay their fears by playing tough on some border-related issues.

Strong fences make good neighbours, according to conventional wisdom. But that has been out of fashion in Western Europe since the formation of the European Community. The idea has been that by dropping borders, greater prosperity and peace could be assured.

However, the reaction against the Maastricht treaty has been caused partly by fears that with the single internal market, the EC went a step too far in opening borders to assist commerce, and thereby forced member-states to give up sovereignty. In France, the anti-immigrant National Front has been at the forefront of opposition to Maastricht.

In the past few months, Europe's politicians have had some alarming lessons. Hazardous waste, organised crime and illegal immigrants are all just as capable of crossing borders as legitimate goods, services and travellers.

When the EC creates its single market, the idea is that goods can flow freely from each state. But a scandal over German waste, including toxic rubbish, has shown that 'bads' as well as 'goods' can make the journey. The waste was transported from Germany, which has very high environmental standards, to France, which is less strict. The issue caused an uproar and was ripe for exploitation by opponents of European union. France is to vote on the Maastricht treaty in a month; the problem had to be defused quickly, hence France slapped a ban on German waste imports. When French and German environment ministers met last Friday, France stood by the decision.

Segolene Royal, the French minister, told a news conference that the ministers would press for a European regulation on the movement of waste. She also said that German and French customs and police will share information and co-operate in clamping down on illegal waste- trafficking rings. 'We wanted to deal with the problems that face us and at the same time outline the future for the environmental Europe,' she said.

'We've decided to meet this problem head-on and draw something positive from this scandal together,' Klaus Toepfer, her German counterpart added. He agreed to make German companies take back waste they had dumped illegally in France.

By taking a tough stance, French officials have demonstrated that they are still free to act in defence of national interests. But they have also tried to present the European case, by arguing that blocking borders is not an effective long-term way to tackle these problems. The strategy has been to show that by co- operating, they can tackle these European problems together.

Something of the same argument is now being put over organised crime which, from being the concern of the Italian authorities, has become a trans- European problem. French and Italian ministers asked for a summit on the subject, which is to be held next month, probably in London. 'Frontiers do not today constitute an obstacle for international villains or terrorists,' Paul Quiles, France's Interior Minister wrote last week. 'Indeed, they guarantee them impunity, because of the inadequcy of co- operation between police forces.'

Mr Quiles also made the point that Maastricht would provide 'improved security for France' in other areas. Illegal immigration from North Africa and Eastern Europe has become a political issue in France, Germany and Italy, and again, EC ministers are at pains to demonstrate the need for a European framework. The first item on Mr Quiles' list of benefits from Maastricht was that 'the control of immigration will be reinforced'.