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We are a world away from seeing the EU stretch into the Middle East.

Byline: By Martin Shipton Western Mail

David miliband's vision of a future Europe containing the Middle East and North Africa defies not just geography, but political sense.

Tipped as a future Prime Minister - although that is probably the kiss of death to his hopes - the Foreign Secretary's speech to students in Bruges on Thursday has to be taken seriously. But if ever there was an example of blue sky thinking that deserves to be consigned to the intellectual dustbin, this is surely it.

Dealing with the geographical question first, the Collins Dictionary defines Europe as, "The second smallest continent, forming the western extension of Eurasia: the border with Asia runs from the Urals to the Caspian and the Black Sea."

Geographically, the idea of countries like Iraq and Algeria being part of Europe is a nonsense.

It is true to say the concept of "Europe" was stretched some years ago when Israel was allowed to enter the Eurovision Song Contest, as well as European football competitions. But that was because no other country in the continent where Israel is actually located would be prepared to engage in sporting and entertainment contests with it.

There are much more serious objections to the idea of nations from the Middle East and North Africa joining the EU. For "Europe" is not merely a geographical term, but one which has come to denote a set of common, progressive values: a belief in the welfare state, abolition of the death penalty, freedom of thought and expression, universal education, to cite just a few.

It is unlikely many countries in the Middle East and North Africa will be implementing such measures in the foreseeable future. Certainly the idea of Saudi Arabia and Algeria signing up to the European Convention on Human Rights is a novel fantasy.

Perhaps most unrealistic of all is the idea that there could be unrestricted labour movement within an EU expanded to include large parts of Asia and Africa. The concerns about the impact on Britain's infrastructure caused by inward migration from the accession countries of eastern Europe would seem negligible in comparison with what would happen if a high proportion of the inhabitants of the Middle East and North Africa decided to move to Europe in search of higher paid work.

Mr Miliband is right to hope for political and economic stability in the Middle East and North Africa. It is highly doubtful, however, whether that would be conferred by membership of the EU. Instead, those countries would be destabilised as their most footloose citizens sought to improve their personal prospects elsewhere.

What the countries of the Middle East and North Africa need is not EU membership, but economic and political development and a redistribution of wealth.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 17, 2007
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