[LIVE] EU leaders in Malta to discuss migration, bloc’s future

Stemming irregular migration from North Africa is high on today’s agenda of the 28 EU leaders, but not only: the heads of state and government are set to discuss Donald Trump and the bloc’s future

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and European Council President Donald Tusk
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and European Council President Donald Tusk

The leaders of the 28 European Union member states are meeting in Malta today to discuss irregular migration, the bloc’s future and the “threats” posed by the new US administration led by its President, Donald Trump.

Top priority will agreeing on operational measures to tackle the massive flows of asylum seekers in the Central Mediterranean region, with specific focus on the role Libya will be playing – yesterday, Tusk held a meeting with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Al-Serraj and he is confident that today’s summit can be a breakthrough.

Ahead of the Malta Summit, Italy and Libya signed a memorandum of understanding through which Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni pledged money, training and equipment to help the UN-backed Government of National Accord.

According to Reuters, the Italy-Libya agreement aims mainly at providing training and equipment needed to better control Libya's vast, desert borders and bolster its limited coast guard fleet.    

"If we want to give real strength and legs to managing migration flows, then there needs to be an economic commitment by the whole of the EU," Gentiloni was quoted saying.   

Libya is a failed state where asylum-seekers are regularly beaten up, raped and murdered by militias and local security forces. The North African country is yet to sign and ratify the 1951 Geneva Convention on the protection of refugees and the latest Amnesty International report shows that many of the around 250,000 refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya face serious abuses, discrimination and labour exploitation.

Serraj's government still struggles to establish control and is contested by various factions, including by Libyan National Army General, Khalifa Haftar, who is being courted by Russia - a relationship that EU officials say they find very troubling.

According to a draft agreement of the Malta declaration to the European Council, the EU “will take additional action to stem migratory flows along the Central Mediterranean route and break the business model of smugglers”: by working with Libya and other North African and sub-Saharan neighbours.
“Our actions will be carried out in full respect for human rights and international law, and in conjunction with UNHCR and IOM,” the declaration reads.

Member states are expected to agree on a €200 million migration plan.

The priorities in the plan of action will include:

  • Training, equipment and support to the Libyan national coast guard;
  • Disrupt smugglers through “enhanced operational action” that involves both Libya and “engaged member states” with missions from the Common Security and Defence Policy, Europol and the European Border and Coast Guard;
  • Supporting Libyan communities in coastal areas and at other borders, “to improve their socio-economic situation and enhance their resilience as host communities”;
  • Provide adequate reception capacities and conditions in Libya for migrants, together with the UNHCR and IOM;
  • Supporting IOM’s assisted voluntary returns;
  • Provide information campaigns to migrants counter smugglers’ business model;
  • Include Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria for better operational cooperation with on returns.

But Amnesty International and the UNHCR have voiced serious concerns over a mooted deal with Libya: closing the EU’s southern sea borders would put thousands of refugees and migrants setting sail from Libya at risk of detention and appalling human rights abuses, Amnesty International warned.

The UN's refugee agency in Malta said that to better protect refugees and migrants, a strong EU was required that would be engaged beyond its borders to protect, assist and help find solutions for people in need. "This includes building capacity to save lives at sea or on land, strengthening the rule of law and fighting against criminal networks. We call for concerted efforts to ensure that sustainable migration and asylum systems are put in place in Libya, when the security and political situation permits, and in neighboring countries."

Over lunch, the EU leaders will discuss international challenges and the international situation, mainly the geopolitical situation. Setting out the points of discussion, Tusk said: “The first threat, an external one, is related to the new geopolitical situation in the world and around Europe.

“An increasingly, let us call it, assertive China, especially on the seas, Russia's aggressive policy towards Ukraine and its neighbours, wars, terror and anarchy in the Middle East and in Africa, with radical Islam playing a major role, as well as worrying declarations by the new American administration, all make our future highly unpredictable.”

The 28 EU leaders will also discuss “the rise in anti-EU, nationalist, increasingly xenophobic sentiment in the EU itself”.

The third part of the summit, which UK Prime Minister Theresa May will skip, will focus on preparations for the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome.