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Migration and central Mediterranean focus of EU leaders’ summit

The heads of government of the 28 EU member states agree to shift their focus onto the central Mediterranean in their effort to tackle the migration issue

paul_cocks
Paul Cocks
16 December 2016, 10:30am
Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat arrives at the European Council building in Brussels
Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat arrives at the European Council building in Brussels
Migration was at the centre of discussions during the European Council summit on Thursday, with European Union leaders agreeing to replicate the EU-Turkey agreement in the central Mediterranean, with a solid commitment to focus on this route and transit countries in the next meeting to be held in Malta in March 2017.

The heads of state or government of the 28 member states left Brussels having also discussed security, relations with Ukraine and Russia, the agreement with Turkey, the tensions in Syria and Brexit.

The European Council underlined the need to enhance support for the Libyan coastguard, including through EUNAVFOR MED operation Sophia, so as to increase its capacity to prevent the loss of life at sea and break the business model of smugglers.

Initiatives need to be taken to offer assisted voluntary return opportunities to migrants stranded in Libya and curtail dangerous journeys, the leaders agreed.

They also reiterated the importance of adequate resources being put at the disposal of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), based in Malta, and the European Border and Coast Guard.

Leaders welcomed the fact that EASO would start recruiting dedicated staff to ensure a stable and sustainable capacity, and insisted on the need to remain vigilant on other routes, including in the Western Mediterranean, so as to be able to rapidly react to developments.

Migration

The European Council reiterated its commitment to the EU-Turkey statement and underlined the importance of a full and non-discriminatory implementation of all aspects. It also renewed its pledge to continue support for the countries along the Western Balkans route.

The EU leaders endorsed the Joint Action Plan on the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement elaborated between Greece and the Commission and welcomed the fact that Greece had already taken first steps towards its implementation.

They acknowledged the fact that the new Partnership Framework of cooperation was an important tool for addressing illegal migration and its root causes, particularly with regard to the Central Mediterranean route.

Muscat said he was confident Malta would still enjoy a strong relationship with Italy under its new prime minister Paolo Gentiloni (Photo: Ray Attard)
Muscat said he was confident Malta would still enjoy a strong relationship with Italy under its new prime minister Paolo Gentiloni (Photo: Ray Attard)
The 28 leaders agreed that the effective application of the principles of responsibility and solidarity remained a shared objective and noted that sustained efforts over the past months to review the Common European Asylum System had shown some areas of convergence, while other areas required further work.

They aimed to reach consensus on the EU's asylum policy during the incoming Maltese presidency.

The Council called on all member states to further intensify their efforts to accelerate relocation, in particular for unaccompanied minors, and existing resettlement schemes.

Security

The European Council reaffirms its commitment to the implementation of the European Union Internal Security Strategy 2015-2020 and called for effective cooperation with electronic service providers based inside and outside the EU.

The leaders agreed that Europeans needed to take greater responsibility for their security and called for reinforcing cooperation in the development of required capabilities as well as committing to making such capabilities available when necessary.

They welcomed the Commission's proposals on the European Defence Action Plan as its contribution to developing European security and defence policy, stressing the importance of fully involving member states.

They also asked the European Investment Bank (EIB) to examine steps with a view to supporting investments in defence research and development activities.

Economic and social development

The European Council welcomed the agreement reached on the extension of the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI), which should be adopted by the co-legislators in the first half of 2017.

It reiterated the importance of the various single market strategies and the Energy Union, which should be completed and implemented by 2018, and called for the continuation of the Youth Guarantee, while also welcoming increased support for the Youth Employment Initiative.

Ukraine

The European leaders reconfirmed their commitment to international law and the territorial integrity of Ukraine as well as the conclusion of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, including the establishment of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

After having carefully noted the outcome of the Dutch referendum on 6 April 2016 on the bill approving the association agreement and the concerns expressed prior to the referendum, the European Council had agreed on a modified draft agreement that the Dutch government would now seek to ratify.

It reiterated the EU’s continued resolve to deepen and strengthen its relationship with Ukraine in the face of current challenges and recognised Ukraine's achievements in implementing reforms to meet European standards and the fact that it had met the conditions for a visa-free regime with the Union.

Syria

The European Council strongly condemned the continued assault on Aleppo by the Syrian regime and its allies, notably Russia and Iran, including the deliberate targeting of civilians and hospitals.

It called on the regime and Russia, as well as all parties in the Syrian conflict to ensure the evacuation in safety and dignity of the inhabitants of the eastern part of Aleppo under the supervision and coordination of the United Nations and to provide immediate and unconditional aid and protection for all inhabitants of the eastern part of Aleppo.

The leaders called for an immediate end to hostilities in Syria and said the EU would provide support for Syria's reconstruction only once a credible political transition was firmly under way.

Brexit

The heads of government of the 27 member states, sans the British prime minister, who left the summit ahead of her counterparts, said they stood ready to start negotiations with the UK as soon as the UK triggered article 50.

Muscat with British Prime Minister Theresa May
Muscat with British Prime Minister Theresa May
They said they welcomed the intention of the UK to do so before the end of March 2017, so that the EU could begin to tackle the uncertainties arising from the prospect of the UK's withdrawal.

The EU 27 reiterated their belief that any agreement would have to be based on a balance of rights and obligations, and that access to the single market required acceptance of all four freedoms.

paul_cocks
Paul Cocks joined MaltaToday after having spent years working in newspapers with The Times...