Germany, Italy bury the hatchet

Brussels Aug. 26. After a weekend of cordial talks highlighted by bonhomie between the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder and the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, diplomatic and economic relations between the two countries are now described as `excellent'. Both leaders have put aside the recent spate of polemics, which even prompted Mr. Schroeder to cancel his scheduled holiday in Italy this summer. All that is now history, as Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Schroeder relaxed in each other's company and smiled broadly before television cameras.

The prospects of German tourists returning to Italy and spending some $10 billions a year now look probable. Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, also had talks with Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Berlusconi. There is much speculation in the European media about Mr. Prodi's future plans. He could either opt for a second term for the E.U. Presidency or enter Italian politics and challenge Mr. Berlusconi in the 2006 general elections. The personal relations between the two men are described as business-like but not cordial.

Italy has appealed to the European Union for help to stem the flow of illegal immigrants from the north and west African region. The bulk of the illegal immigrants entering Italy are North Africa-based Arabs and Africans from west and central African regions. Local criminal gangs masterminding the flow of illegal immigrants use Italy as a base to increase the flow of immigrants into more prosperous regions of northern Europe. Apart from illegal immigrants, the criminal gangs are engaged in human trafficking — mainly women who are forced into the sex trade in major European centres.

There are no statistics but according to one Nigerian analyst, over 6,000 Nigerian women are currently engaged in Italian sex trade. Italy wants the E.U. to structure and finance a pan-European coast guard for border security. The main flow of illegal immigration traffic is currently passing through the Mediterranean ports of Italy and Spain.

Mr. Berlusconi reiterated his perception that the trafficking of human cargo from Asia and Africa is a pan-European problem and made a fresh appeal to the E.U. to finance a European border security infrastructure.

It remains to be seen how the flow of illegal immigrants and the so-called "asylum seekers'' can be curbed. The flow of illegal immigrants into the recession-hit European economies is also taking a financial and psychological toll of its resources.

The current level of unemployment and under-employment in major E.U. economies is hovering above 10 per cent. Germany, France, Italy and Holland may report negative economic growth at the end of this year. With tight budgets and drastic curb on public spending, limited financial resources are available to curb the flow of immigrants. European politicians agree that the problem of illegal immigration is a pan-European one. The German and Italian Home Ministers also discussed the problem over the weekend.

Italy is also seeking German cooperation to adopt the European Constitution before the end of the year to highlight the "glittering end'' to Italian presidency of the E.U.

The current six-monthly rotating Italian presidency will end on December 31 and Italy obviously wants a impressive end to its presidency, which has been marred by diplomatic gaffes.

These range from Mr. Berlusconi likening a German member of the European Parliament to Nazi concentration camp guard, to the Italian Minister for Tourism calling German tourists as noise-making and beer drinking louts.

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