[WATCH] EU leaders prepare show of force on irregular immigration

Top priority for EU leaders is stopping migrant boats from Libya • Angela Merkel: ‘In Libya, we must proceed in the same way as we did with Turkey’ • Italy signs agreement with Libyan PM Fayez al-Serraj

Irregular migration, Donald Trump high on EU leaders' agenda
Irregular migration, Donald Trump high on EU leaders' agenda
German Chancellor Angela Merkel: 'We're looking for a solution to prevent illegal human trafficking'
German Chancellor Angela Merkel: 'We're looking for a solution to prevent illegal human trafficking'

An intensive day of discussions lies ahead for the 28 leaders of the European Union as they meet at Valletta to talk migration, Brexit and Donald Trump.

Today’s informal meeting aims to be a show of unity, with EU leaders telling reporters outside the Grandmaster’s Palace in Malta’s capital city that the EU must today stand more united than ever.

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern admitted he had “pretty mixed feelings” over the new President of the United States, arguing that “the tangible politics” of the Trump administration raised concerns.

But he was also hopeful that these external threats – as European Council President Donald Tusk put it – could serve as the catalyst that unites Europe. The leaders will this evening discuss preparations for the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome: “The anniversary is a good opportunity to settle some issues.”

Indeed, High Representatives Federica Mogherini said the member states may differ amongst them, but the bloc can show the world that it can make a difference.

“We can today show the difference; our citizens need a strong Union and we can be a strong point of reference for partners around the world,” she said, adding that the EU approach was one of partnership.

The Maltese Presidency of the European Council has pushed for the implementation of a deal with Libya, similar to that which the EU has with Turkey. The European Commission initially appeared to shoot it down, but it seems like the plan is still gaining support.

“We are looking for a solution so that we can prevent illegal human trafficking. We know the situation for refugees is dramatic in Libya and we therefore must proceed in the same way we did in Turkey,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, adding that a political solution was needed for a stable Libya.

Yesterday Italy signed an agreement with Libya, which is also supported by the Libyan Presidential Council, one diplomat told MaltaToday.

The member states are expected to agree on a €200 million migration plan, as a first step, that includes training, equipment and support to the Libyan national coast guard and to support Libyan communities in coastal areas and at other borders, “to improve their socio-economic situation and enhance their resilience as host communities”.

Libya is led by the UN-backed Government of National Accord, and Brussels is now working closely with its Prime Minister, Fayez al-Serraj, to discuss how the EU can support it. But agreeing a deal with Libya worries human rights organisations, given that the North African country is not a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on the protection of refugees. As many as 250,000 refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya have suffered serious abuses, discrimination and labour exploitation.

In comments to MaltaToday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker admitted that there were “problems” concerning human rights in Libya.

“There are problems mainly concerning human rights and refugee camps and we are addressing this issue with Libyan PM,” he said.

Mogherini, who yesterday held talks with the Libyan PM, said that an external EU initiative in Libya would decrease and avoid loss of lives, and increase the levels of human conditions “which we know are dramatic”.

“We want to save lives in partnership and in full ownership of partners in the region,” the High Representative said, confirming that Serraj was currently in Brussels discussing EU support.  

Merkel confirmed that EU work in Libya will be in cooperation with the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). "In this context, we will also discuss the future new asylum system in Europe," Merkel said.

Theresa May to brief EU colleagues on Trump meeting

UK Prime Minister Theresa May on her arrival at Valletta
UK Prime Minister Theresa May on her arrival at Valletta

Also on the agenda is Donald Trump and the new US administration with several EU leaders admitting being wary of the American president.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to brief her colleagues on her visit to Washington. According to Reuters, she will also remind EU states need to deliver on their NATO commitments to defence spending.

Reuters said that her presentation will balance the assurances she received from Trump on his support for NATO - a military alliance he has previously described as obsolete - with a warning to EU leaders that they must raise their defence spending. Her arguments will echo the rationale behind Trump's criticism.

Mogherini told reporters that the EU remained “friends” with the American administration: “To differ is normal among friends… but we have clear priorities. We do not believe in walls.”

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