Robert Harneis –TDO-(FRANCE) The heads of government of the seven southern European members of the European Union met on Wednesday 10th January. The meeting took place in the Villa Madame in the Romagna countryside, where visiting heads of state are often received.
Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Cypriot and Maltese leaders met for the fourth time in Rome in the format known as ‘Med7’. It is an informal group of countries sharing a number of problems from migration to European integration. After a short meeting followed by a working lunch, a joint statement was published. Controlling migratory fluxes dominated discussions. Subjects also under discussion were the Eurozone, growth, employment and the preparation of European elections for 2019.
The heads of state said that they were firmly attached to a common European immigration policy. The Greek Prime Minister Aléxis Tsipras stressed to journalists ‘we need to fight together to put in place a common migration policy with solidarity particularly towards those countries which are subject to heavy migratory flows. Med7 believes that it is not equitable that the southern European members have to support the whole burden.’
The agreement with Turkey has reduced the number of asylum requests in Greece by six times but Greece still has 50,000 migrant waiting for asylum hearings offering 14,000 are stuck in overcrowded centres on the Greek islands near Turkey.
The member countries ‘called for a determined effort to put in place a common European asylum policy based on solidarity’. However, it was significant that they did not talk about quotas for the re-localization of migrants that the European Union has in vain sought to put in place in the face of determined opposition from certain Eastern European countries. The migration issue will be discussed by all 28 members later this summer. The final date to finalize the negotiations for the reform of European asylum rules which have gone nowhere for months has been fixed for next June.
Members also called for a strengthening of dialogue and cooperation with the countries from which the migrants come and through which they travel. According to the head of the Spanish government Mariano Rajoy ‘the aim must be the fight against poverty on the African continent, and the fight against the mafias.’
In concrete terms this policy consists of reproducing on a European scale the method employed by Spain in Senegal and Mauritania since 2006 and the experience of Italy in Libya. The Italian leader Paolo Gentiloni referred to the encouraging results obtained thanks to the agreement with the Libyan authorities which had led to a 35% drop in the number migrants arriving in Italy. The Italians hope by deploying 500 soldiers in the Niger Republic to reduce the flow further.
However, the agreement between Italy and Libya remains very controversial and can mean dealing directly or indirectly with the armed militias and people smugglers. More generally the proposition is strongly criticized by NGOs who work to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean, as well as by certain international organizations. These organizations denounce the policy of the European Union of financing African countries to obstruct immigration, when the majority of these countries do not guarantee the respect for human rights.
This was confirmed by Sophie Beau vice president of the Association SOS Mediterranean, who in an interview criticized the fact that Europe finances Libyan coastguards to intercept migrant boats and take them back to what could be called ‘the Libyan hell…’ All that in the face of international law which demands taking them to a safe port and therefore to Europe.’
The economy was also on the agenda. Members insisted on the importance of making progress with the banking union, as well as a European deposit guarantee system which would permit the creation of lasting and socially inclusive growth.
Members finally want to support initiatives which encourage citizens to express their views on ways in which the European Union could be improved. They welcomed the idea of Europewide consultations on the future of the union which could begin by next spring. The joint statement ended with a proposal for transnational lists of candidates for the forthcoming European elections in 2019, with a view to reinforcing European union cohesion.