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Cape Verde could seek EU membership this year

The Atlantic island nation of Cape Verde could make a formal request to join the European Union as early as this year, its prime minister Jose Maria Neves was quoted as saying by Saturday's Portuguese press.

Speaking Friday during a visit to Lisbon, he said the former Portuguese colony off west Africa was gathering support within Europe with the aim of formally seeking the opening of negotiations with Brussels "as soon as possible" and "probably even this year."

Former Portuguese president Mario Soares launched a petition in March to press Lisbon to persuade the EU to start membership talks with Cape Verde, saying the archipelago could act as a bridge between the United States, Latin America and the bloc.

The proposal is unprecedented as no other former colony of a member of the 25-nation bloc has ever applied for or received membership.

Located some 500 kilometres (300 miles) from the coast of Senegal, Cape Verde, which became independent in 1975, lies near major north-south shipping routes and is an important sea and air refueling site.

The volcanic islands are part of Macaronesia, a grouping of four Atlantic archipelagos which also include Portugal's Azores and Madeira islands and Spain's Canary islands.

Those other islands automatically joined the EU with Lisbon and Madrid in

The petition argues EU membership for Cape Verde "is in the interests of Europe", adding the islands are "an essential platform in relations between Europe and Africa".

"The enlargement of the European Union cannot ignore the Atlantic dimension of Europe," it says.

The islands were uninhabited when they were colonized by the Portuguese in the 15th century but now have a population of just over 400,000 people, most of whom have both African and Portuguese antecedents.

The country has poor natural resources and has turned increasingly to tourism to develop the economy.

Maria Neves said during a visit to Lisbon in November that his government was considering adopting the euro as its own currency. The islands already follow the strict monetary criteria of the euro.

He said Friday that Praia would seek initially to obtain a partnership status with the EU, which he called "strategic for the future of Cape Verde, but also for the future of Europe," whose "radius of security and stability" would be enlarged.

EU relations with Cape Verde

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