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Posted by D from ( on Wednesday, May 28, 2003 at 10:43PM :


A visiting delegation from the European Union was startled this week when Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said his government was weighing an application to join the EU.

"It doesn't mean he is preparing the dossier for applying tomorrow," an Israeli spokesman said. "In principle, the minister thinks a possibility exists for Israel to join the EU, since Israel and Europe share similar economies and democratic values."

Shalom broached the subject on Tuesday, but there is no immediate prospect of this happening, since under EU rules, new members must have no outstanding border disagreements with their neighbors.

But the EU is deeply involved in the Middle East, and not just as a member of the 'Quartet' of the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations that have jointly drawn up the 'road map' to a peace agreement.

The EU is one of the main customers for Middle Eastern energy exports and, under the Barcelona Agreement, has forged a series of trade and cooperation agreements with the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

Turkey, a strategic Middle East player and an Islamic though legally secular country, has been formally accepted as an EU candidate member. North African Arabs now account for 10 percent of France's population, and the French and British colonial heritage in the Middle East gives them strong links to the region.

European countries like France and Germany might hesitate before admitting another such pro-American member, analysts say. But, there are voices in the EU that support the idea, including one member of the EU Parliament delegation that was told of Israel's deliberations Tuesday evening.

Marco Pannella, an Italian member of the European Parliament and president of the Transnational Radical Party, is promoting the initiative. He told reporters in Israel that while support was growing in the European Parliament for Israel to join the EU it could take "up to a decade" to complete the process.

The EU and Israel already have a formal Cooperation Agreement, ratified by the Knesset, Israel's parliament, three years ago. Its provisions include regular political dialog, liberalization of trade in goods and services, the free movement of capital and competition rules, the strengthening of economic cooperation on the widest possible basis and cooperation on social and cultural matters.

The Israeli foreign minister's statement coincided with a report by the Washington-based Cato Institute think-tank, which suggested an important geopolitical aspect to Israeli membership.

"Signaling to the Israelis and the Palestinians that a peaceful resolution to their conflict could be a ticket for admission into the EU, would be more than just enticing them with economic rewards," the Cato report said.

"Conditioning Israel's entry into the EU on its agreement to withdraw from the occupied territories and dismantle the Jewish settlements there, would strengthen the hands of those Israelis who envision their state not as a militarized Jewish ghetto but as a Westernized liberal community."

-- D
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