President of Cataluña, Jordi Pujol, yesterday spoke of his concerns about European Union expansion and the inclusion of new central and eastern European countries. Pujol, in Palma for a series of meetings, including talks with Balearic President Francesc Antich, said that he fears that Mediterranean states could lose out at the new members' expense. The future of the Euro-Mediterranean states in the face of EU enlargement was supposed to have been the main topic on the agenda at the weekend's Formentor forum, but it was slightly overshadowed by events. Pujol expressed his concerns while opening the first “Balearics and Cataluña in the European Union” conference. The meeting put the seal on a new agreement between the two autonomous governments to create a pressure group to lobby the European Union in defence of the interests of Mediterranean states, in particular those regions in the western Mediterranean arc while promoting culture and the Catalan language. Pujol stressed the need yesterday for the political and economic repercussions of EU enlargement to be closely monitored. One of the Balearics' primary concerns is community funding from European Union coffers. The Balearics has been pushing for greater European Union recognition as an autonomous community and therefore the status to negotiate EU funding directly with Brussels, as opposed to Madrid acting on the Balearics' behalf, for fears that Palma may see the EU gravy train start thinning as the needs of the new members are considered of greater importance. Pujol was clearly disappointed by the Middle East peace process overshadowing the agenda at the Formentor Forum. He would have preferred to have stuck to the agenda “sometimes the conflict (Middle East) is used to achieve nothing,” in the rest of the Mediterannean he said yesterday. Pujol stressed the important role the Mediterranean has to play because the region is a “delicate” border with the Eastern world, the “demographic explosion,” and in some cases “religious fundamentalism.” The President of Cataluña went on to claim that the western Mediterranean arc, which includes parts of Italy, France's south coast, Valencia, Cataluña and Murcia is an area of the world enjoying a high level of development. Balearic President, Francesc Antich, drove home the need for a joint European political agenda for Cataluña and the Balearics. Antich repeated his calls for the EU's insular regions to be given a greater role and for the Committee of regions to cease acting merely as a consultative body. Both autonomous leaders also agreed that while a united front is being drawn up to defend the regions in the face of Europe Union enlargement, similar steps should be taken to deal with central government in Madrid. Pujol announced in Palma that he intends to take Madrid to task over the “unsatisfactory” way the country's airports are being managed. Pujol urged Antich to push ahead with the Balearics' bid to be given control of the islands' airports as well as air routes serving the region. “Air communications are vital for the Balearics and very important for Cataluña,” Pujol said.

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