The European Commission yesterday refused to react to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s latest request for €5 billion a year to stop illegal immigrants from Africa entering the EU through its southern border.

Colonel Gaddafi’s comments, in which he also said Europe could soon become “black”, were made during an official visit to Rome on Monday.

Asked for a reaction, European Commission spokesman Matthew Newman said the EU executive did not wish to give any reaction on what President Gaddafi said.

When pressed, he only said that, “through dialogue and comprehensive cooperation, the EU can improve the situation... in particular with regard to prevention of irregular migration”.

Commission sources said this was not the first time Col. Gaddafi or other Libyan officials made financial requests to the EU in exchange for help over the illegal immigration issue.

“Some years ago, the Libyan government sent the EU a list of military equipment it needed to police its borders against illegal immigrants. The equipment costs much more than the €5 billion Col Gaddafi mentioned last Monday,” the sources said.

The sources acknowledged that Libya did hold the key to control the flow of illegal immigrants as the bilateral agreement between Libya and Italy had shown.

Since the start of Libya-Italy joint patrols in Libya’s territorial waters last year, the flow of illegal immigrants reaching the shores of Italy and Malta have been reduced drastically. So far this year, no illegal immigrants have reached the island and, in 2009, there were 1,475 people arriving, almost half the amount of 2008 (2,775), when the agreement between Italy and Libya was still not in place.

The European Commission has been negotiating without success a partnership agreement with Tripoli. The partnership would likely involve substantial aid, however, progress has been very slow.

A visit by the former EU Justice Chief to Libya, Jacques Barrot, had been postponed several times, eventually never taking place and the new European commissioner responsible for migration issues, Cecilia Malmstrom, is still waiting to visit Tripoli for official talks over the proposed partnership agreement.

But the Libyan leader is positioning himself for the negotiations.

Speaking in Rome on Monday evening, Col Gaddafi said the money would avoid that Europe “turns into Africa” as “there are millions of Africans who want to come in”.

He said that “tomorrow, Europe might no longer be European, and even black, as there are millions who want to come in”.

“We don’t know what will happen, what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans. We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions,” President Gaddafi said in the presence of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who did not react to the controversial comments.

Alternattiva Demokratika yesterday urged the main political parties to stand up to such “blackmail”.

Arnold Cassola, AD’s spokesman on EU and international affairs, said: “Gaddafi has also asked the EU to give him at least €5 billion a year or else, he threatened, Europe could become Africanised, through migration. The European Union should not give in to this backmail and, indeed, should insist on Col Gaddafi and Libya signing and ratifying the Geneva convention on human rights instead”.

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