Spain, Greece want migrant pact, no fortress Europe

ATHENS, July 10 (Reuters) - The leaders of Spain and Greece backed proposals for a harmonised EU immigration policy and tougher border patrols on Thursday, but said the 27-nation bloc should not become a "fortress" against would-be migrants.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his Greek counterpart Costas Karamanlis told a news conference more development aid to poor countries was the most effective way to curb a wave of illegal migrants.

Zapatero deplored the death at sea on Thursday of a further 14 African migrants -- nine of them children -- as they tried to reach Spain as "an almost unbearable tragedy".

Hundreds of illegal migrants die each year trying to reach the Spain's Canary Islands or its southern mainland coast, using rickety open-air fishing boats from Africa. Many more die in the perilous crossing to Greece from Turkey or north Africa.

"Either we help Africa, either we help fight poverty and desperation, or our future as a region of well-being and progress falls into question," Zapatero said.

He urged all European Union states to meet a target of donating 0.7 percent of their income to aid.

"Europe cannot be a fortress, a closed house. That would contradict our values and our principles as Europeans."

EU interior ministers who met in Cannes this week backed a French plan for EU states to boost the fight against illegal migration and expel more illegal migrants, while promoting legal migration and a common asylum policy by 2010.

The proposal is expected to be approved by mid-October.

"Greece and Spain suffer similar problems and the drama of illegal migration in particular," said Zapatero. "We are in agreement on the migration pact, we agree on strengthening the Frontex (EU frontier) agency, we agree on development policy, we agree on repatriation."

The European Commission estimates there are up to 8 million illegal migrants in the bloc. More than 200,000 were arrested in the first half of 2007 but fewer than 90,000 were expelled.

Conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy has made an agreement on immigration a key plank of his six-month presidency of the 27-nation EU, which began this month.

Zapatero's centre-left government is seen as having a more relaxed policy to migration and was criticised by some EU states for its 2005 legalisation of some 700,000 migrants. It is concerned about a backlash from Latin American states, such as Venezuela and Argentina, where Spain has major investments.

Karamanlis said they had discussed proposals for a common EU coastguard. "This could be beneficial for all Mediterranean member-countries and the European Union in general," he said. (Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Douglas Hamilton)