EU endorses new border rules

European Union leaders want their nations to fingerprint all foreign visitors and take other new steps to keep out illegal immigrants as part of a security overhaul proposed Friday.

The measures are similar to those already in place in the United States, and have prompted concerns about privacy and the rights of those seeking refugee status in the EU. But EU leaders suggested security is paramount.

At a summit, they said crafting a common border and immigration policy for Europe by 2010 “is a key priority for citizens” and pushed efforts to reach agreement to the top of their political agenda.

In a declaration Friday, the EU leaders ordered their governments to draft legislation on tougher new border security measures to ease the way toward a more seamless immigration and asylum policy.

These would include fingerprinting and screening for all visitors who cross the bloc's borders and using a satellite system to keep out illegal immigrants.

The screening would apply to everyone: Those who need a visa to enter EU nations, such as visitors from most African nations, as well as those who do not, such as U.S. citizens.

If all 27 EU governments approve all the immigration and security proposals, it would represent one of the largest security overhauls in the European Union and could cost billions of dollars.

The EU leaders brushed off heated criticism from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of a related new EU law on returning illegal immigrants. The law sets Europe-wide standards on how to treat illegal migrants in detention and expel them.

Chavez threatened Thursday to cut off oil and bar investment opportunities to EU nations if they applied the new rules, which were passed by the European Parliament. He claimed the law would lead to mass deportations of illegal migrants who would have to be housed in “concentration camps” until they were expelled.

The rules do not foresee that, but set out basic rights, including access to food, shelter and legal advice, and bind EU nations not to detain migrants for more than 18 months before deporting or releasing them.