Migration pact must meet the needs of front-line states – Robert Abela

Prime Minister Robert Abela says the EU's migration pact must ensure that the needs of front-line member states are met

Prime Minister Robert Abela delivering a press statement at the Med9 summit in Mdina
Prime Minister Robert Abela delivering a press statement at the Med9 summit in Mdina

The EU’s migration pact must ensure that the needs of front-line states are met, and co-legislators must agree on the pact before the end of the legislative term, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Friday.

Speaking at a joint press conference following the Med9 summit, Abela said European relations with its southern neighbours need to go beyond migration aid, and instead look to empower neighbours to develop their economies to their full potential.

“Irregular migration flows impact the whole of Europe. Tackling these flows is a problem for governments across the continent,” he said.

Abela reiterated calls on European co-legislators to agree on the EU’s Pact on Migration and Asylum before the end of the legislative term. “The pact must ensure that the needs of front-line states are met.”

He said the rate of return for illegal migrants should be improved, and remarked that migration should be tackled at source.

“We welcome the package of immediate assistance for Tunisia, announced last week by the Commission. This has to be delivered,” he said, thanking Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen for their work in drawing up this package.

Meloni said Europe must tackle migration structurally, and the solution cannot be implemented with countries acting alone.

“The geopolitical crisis we’re facing means that we are among the first nations to be affected. If we lack a structural solution, everyone will be affected,” she said.

Meloni thanked Abela and other Med9 leaders for including concrete suggestions on irregular migration in the summit joint declaration.

“We’re fighting against smugglers and tackling the root causes of immigration and offering other solutions to Africa. We want to highlight that the only way to tackle immigration and help the most vulnerable and those who are entitled to international help is to go back to a principle of legality.”

French president Emmanuel Macron extended solidarity to Europe’s southern neighbours, particularly Morocco and Libya, for the natural catastrophes they suffered over the past months.

On migration, Macron acknowledged that Italy, particularly Lampedusa, is facing an exceptional situation. He called for a united response by Europe while confirming solidarity with Italy.

Macron welcomed the European Commission’s 10-point plan for Lampedusa, and said Europe must be able to improve internal cooperation to fight against illegal migration.

Cyprus president Nikos Christodoulides said that there’s a common understanding among the Med9 members that relations with the southern neighbourhood need to be enhanced.

“For Cyprus, which has been receiving the most asylum applications per capita for the last six years, the issue is very pressing.”

He insisted on the need for pacts with transit countries, including southern neighbours, to address the root causes of migration.

Christodoulides also welcomed the inclusion of the Cyprus problem in the declaration, where leaders welcomed the EU’s readiness to play an active role in supporting all stages of the UN-led process, including the appointment of an EU representative.

Pascual Ignacio Navarro Ríos, the Spanish secretary of state responsible for the EU, also said that the Mediterranean must focus on the southern neighbourhood.

“Our objective is to contribute tot he migration and asylum pact, and we are hoping to work together for this.”

Climate change

Abela also acknowledged recent disasters in Libya and Morocco, and noted that climate change is taking its toll in the Mediterranean.

“We need to look at how we adapt to climate change and how the union addresses civil protection and crisis management. No nation is immune to climate change or natural disasters, but it’s clear that southern Europe is particularly vulnerable.”

Abela noted that the EU’s budget is not sufficient to tackle climate change, but praised Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis for his efforts to reform the way the EU responds to natural disasters.

Mitsotakis thanked his colleagues for supporting Greece in its efforts. “The climate crisis is affecting the Mediterranean in a disproportionate manner. It’s not about being concerned by about taking immediate action.”

He also noted that less developed or unstable countries will be doubly affected by climate change. “The same storm that caused the lives of 20 people in Greece, cost the lives of thousands of people in Libya,” he said.

Mitsotakis also touched on economic governance, remarking that Europe cannot make the mistakes of the past.

He said member states should have their own fiscal paths, and cannot be curtailed by self-imposed fiscal rules at a time when countries most need to invest.

Portughese prime minister Antonio Costa expressed support with Mitsotakis on the isssue of climate change, while expressing solidarity with Slovenia and Greece, which were recently affected by storms and natural disasters.

“We’re in a place in the world where the consequences of climate change affect us, and we are very well aware of the importance of the green transition. We have to act in a way that we can contribute to reach our goals, and those of the Paris agreement, and reduce global warming,” he said.

Slovenian prime minister Robert Golob also said that climate change must be tackled immediately, and financially. “We put lots of money in how to carry out the green transition, but we’re not putting enough money into financial relief after natural disasters.”

Several leaders also touched on the need to reform the MFF for 2021-2027, in line with the needs of Mediterranean states.

Croatia’s PM Andrej Plenković said there is a common understanding on the revision of the MFF. “Climate change is changing the environment of our daily lives. We are grateful for the EU’s solidarity fund that helps countries rectify immediate damage. It’s highly likely that this will happen again, and we should allocate more funds to this in the future.”

The Malta statement

Abela said that he was particularly proud that the nine countries signed the Malta statement earlier this year.

The Malta statement was a joint declaration signed by the EU Mediterranean energy ministers last May. This declaration launched the vision for the Mediterranean Region as a Hub of Green Energy, to accelerate the EU's drive for a decarbonised, energy-independent future.

The Med9 countries agreed that the Mediterranean can become a centre of renewable energy investments, with a focus on offshore renewables and new energy interconnections between EU and non-EU Mediterranean countries, to facilitate European investment in green energy.

Abela said this was a real roadmap to building a Mediterranean Green Energy Hub. “Helping our neighbours to both decarbonise and increase their energy supply as their economies expand. Helping to harness the huge potential of solar from our North African neighbours tapping into the power of sharing energy. Ensuring the whole Mediterranean benefits from security of supply.”