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Israel is considering applying for membership of the European Union, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told a visiting EU delegation yesterday.

"Shalom said he is not excluding that this government will ask for full EU membership," said Marco Pannella, an Italian member of the European Parliament and president of the Transnational Radical Party.

A spokesman for Shalom confirmed the comments but said, "It doesn't mean he is preparing the dossier for applying tomorrow."

"In principle, the minister thinks a possibility exists for Israel to join the EU, since Israel and Europe share similar economies and democratic values," he said.

Pannella, who is spearheading the initiative, told Reuters that support was growing in the European Parliament for Israel to join the EU but that it could take up to a decade to complete the process.

There is, however, little enthusiasm among EU member states for Israel to join. The EU is frustrated by Israel's reservations about the road map peace plan and has expressed concern at Israel's military measures against Palestinians. Israel would need to change many of its policies, regarding the government's finances, domestic relations with Arabs, and other matters, to meet EUcrtiteria for acceptance.