EM Ireland: Just the Facts Informal – Summit of the European Council, 3 February 2017
On Friday 3 February 2017, EU leaders met in Valletta, the capital city of Malta, for an informal summit. The meeting consisted of a morning session, in which all 28 EU leaders discussed migration. This was followed by an afternoon session where the EU27 leaders, excluding UK Prime Minister Theresa May, met to prepare for the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
As part of the Action Plan agreed at the 2015 Valletta Summit on Migration, the 28 EU leaders discussed the ongoing migration crisis, with a specific focus on stemming migratory flows along the Central Mediterranean route. Irregular migration along this route accounts for approximately 95 per cent of all irregular migration into the EU, with a majority of these migrants departing from the Libyan coast.
The Malta Declaration, adopted by the EU leaders at the informal summit in Valletta on 3 February 2017, agrees on ‘immediate operational measures’ aimed at reducing irregular migration from Libya. These measures centre on training, equipping and supporting the Libyan coastguard in an effort to interrupt people smuggling and increase the number of search and rescue missions.
EU leaders also committed to delivering economic assistance to local communities in Libya in order to ‘improve their situation and help them shelter stranded migrants’, to deepening co-operation with countries neighbouring Libya in order to ‘help reduce the pressure on Libya’s land border’, and to co-operating closely with international organisations such as the United Nations Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration to improve conditions in Libyan migrant camps.
The bilateral Memorandum of Understanding agreed between the Italian and Libyan governments on 2 February 2017, whereby the Italian government pledged to provide economic, training and equipment support in order to help Libya better police its own borders and thereby stem the flow of irregular migration, was welcomed. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, stated that the European Council had “decided to support Member States’ bilateral activities directly engaged with Libya”.
The European Council agreed to act promptly to achieve these migration objectives, welcoming the intention of the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU to present a ‘concrete plan for implementation’ and committing to evaluate the progress of the measures at its meetings in March and June 2017.
Prior to the summit, President Tusk had written to the EU27 leaders, calling for unity. In his letter, President Tusk highlighted “the change in Washington [which] puts the European Union in a difficult situation; with the new [US] administration seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy”.
At a press conference at the conclusion of the summit, President Tusk said that EU leaders had discussed that while “transatlantic co-operation remains an absolute priority because it has until now been a key pillar of the free world, at the same [time] we know that today we have no other option than to regain confidence in our own strength”.
Joseph Muscat, the Prime Minister of Malta, which holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU, said that there was concern among the EU28 relating to “some decisions that are being taken by the new US administration”, but that “nevertheless, there was no sense of anti-Americanism. There was a sense that we need to engage with the United States just the same, but that we need to show…that we cannot stay silent where there are principles involved”.
60th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome
The afternoon session in Valletta, Malta saw the EU27 leaders, without the UK Prime Minister Theresa May, continue their political reflection on the future of Europe as part of the Bratislava Roadmap agreed on 16 September 2016 in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU. This was an opportunity to prepare for the upcoming 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March 2017, on which occasion the EU27 leaders are expected to make an announcement at an informal summit in Rome on the future direction of the EU post-Brexit.
Speaking after the informal summit in Valletta, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, referred to a so-called ‘two-speed Europe’. Chancellor Merkel said “We certainly learned from the history of the last years that there will be as well a European Union with different speeds, that not all [Member States] will participate every time in all steps of integration”, adding “I think this may be in the Rome Declaration as well”.
The next formal European Council summit is scheduled to take place in Brussels on 9 and 10 March 2017.
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