Med9 summit declaration seeks ‘assurances’ for migration frontline countries

Kevin Schembri Orland

Friday, 29 September 2023, 18:51
Last update: about 17 minutes ago

Countries which took part in the Med9 summit hosted by Malta on Friday agreed to call on all other co-legislators, “to step up negotiations on the Pact on Migration and Asylum to reach an agreement in all files before the end of the current legislative term.”

“This agreement must provide the necessary assurances that the needs of frontline countries will be adequately met,” they said.

The nations represented at the one-day summit included host Malta, France, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Cyprus, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain. Slovenia and Croatia, which have coastlines on the Adriatic Sea, were added to the so-called “Med Group” in 2021. Two top EU officials – European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel – were invited to the closed-door meeting. The leaders of the EU’s 27 nations have an informal European Council meeting scheduled for next week in Granada, Spain.

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The declaration also saw countries “recall the need for a significant increase in the EU’s efforts on the external dimension front with a renewed approach to effectively reduce primary movements and prevent departures, improve the rate of returns of failed asylum seekers and other third country nationals who have no legal right to remain in the Union, address the root causes of irregular migration while respecting the protection of fundamental rights and international obligations.”

Speaking about migration while delivering a press statement at the end of the summit, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that “the rate of return of failed asylum seekers has to be improved. It is vital that smuggling networks are dismantled. But ultimately the issue needs to be tackled at source. To help achieve that, we underline the need to urgently build more robust, comprehensive partnerships with all our partners in the southern Mediterranean.”

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni said she was pleased with the “convergence” of views at the summit, given recent differences over the migration dossier with France and Germany. And she said she hoped the Tunisia deal will soon get off the ground, with the first tranche of EU funding due to arrive next week. “The summit repeats that the path to follow … is the fight against illegal immigration, an all-out fight against traffickers and going to the cause of the migration phenomenon,” Meloni said at the end of the summit.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke of the need to be more effective in terms of “ensuring that unseaworthy boats don’t leave the shores of neighbouring countries and put people at risk of losing their lives in what is a very treacherous journey. We need to work more with countries of transit and we are trying to do that with Turkey. We need to work on repatriations and ensure people not entitled to asylum are returned to their country of origin. And we need to focus on legal pathways of migration. If we want to be more vigilant on protecting our borders, the counterbalance needs to be that we offer opportunities to people who can come to EU and help us support our economic growth, to do so in a safe manner and on our own terms.”

The heads of government, in their joint declaration, also condemned “Russia’s ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine, and reaffirm our determination to continue supporting Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders.” They called on Russia to cease its military activities “and immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw from the entire territory of Ukraine.”

By terminating the Black Sea Grain Initiative, Russia further exacerbated the global food security crisis, the declaration by the states said. “In this context, the MED9 said that they will continue to support EU’s engagement towards affected partner countries, “notably through EU’s Solidarity Lanes which remain instrumental in bolstering global food security.”

“These are major concerns which warrant ever-closer cooperation among us, increased vigilance, and outreach to partners in the South, including those in sub-Saharan Africa. It is incumbent on us to adopt a stronger paradigm for Euro-African cooperation on matters of peace and security so that we can ensure that we effectively respond to the needs of our partners. Adopting a broader approach, encompassing the entire African continent, will also contribute to this endeavour. We welcome the fact that the African Union has become a permanent member of the G20,” the declaration said.

The leaders of the nine nations also welcomed the renewed focus at EU level on strengthening the EU’s relations with our partners in the Southern Neighbourhood, by progressively implementing and updating the New Agenda for the Mediterranean. This momentum needs to be maintained in order to restore the region’s rightful place on the EU agenda. In this context, the European Council’s call for strengthening and developing strategic partnerships between the EU and partners in the Southern Neighbourhood must be delivered upon, they said.

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The MED9 also addressed the issue of climate change.

Referring to the “severe natural disasters, and extreme weather events” that have hit the Mediterranean region in recent months, the vast majority of which is a result of climate change, the nine states said there is a “need to analyse the impact of climate change on areas which are crucial to our way and quality of life, including healthcare, agriculture, food security, energy, water resources and tourism.”

“The protection of our natural resources, including the management of farmland, water resources and the protection and conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems, forests and our region’s rich biodiversity, must remain a priority,” the declaration said.

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“We believe that one of our main objectives should remain our direct contribution to the EU’s collective climate neutrality targets to be achieved by the year 2050 – a gradual but sustained transition to a carbon neutral economy that combines the promotion of renewables and green energy, with stronger emphasis on energy efficiency and security of decarbonized energy supply,” the declaration added.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, on the natural disasters, also said that the MED9 send their deepest condolences to the peoples of Libya and Morocco. “As good neighbours we will continue to offer support to their recovery and rebuilding efforts. But also, within our own countries, climate change has been taking its toll. There couldn’t be a stronger reminder that there must be no let up in efforts to combat both the causes and effects of climate change. We need to look again at how we adapt to climate change and how the Union addresses civil protection and crisis management. Of course, no nation is immune from either climate change or natural disasters. But it is clear the countries of Southern Europe are particularly vulnerable. And it is also clear that the Union’ current polices, and budget are simply insufficient to cope with a period of such natural disruption.”

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The heads of government also pledged, in the declaration, to use the European Year of Skills to develop ambitious and innovative upskilling and lifelong learning policies that translate into improved wages and working conditions. “Our region must push the EU to enhance its social dimension, empower and protect citizens, reduce inequalities through equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions and social protection and inclusion, in constant dialogue with partners.”

The declaration then speaks of a “commitment to strengthen the European project and complete the process of European integration remains steadfast. We will keep up the momentum that enlargement has gained over the past year and step up our support to our partners in their path towards accession on the basis of a fair and merit-based process, measured against the fulfillment of necessary criteria, while taking into consideration our own level of preparedness. Against this backdrop, we reconfirm our full and unequivocal commitment to the European Union membership perspective of the Western Balkans, Moldova, and Ukraine.”

“We reiterate that the enlargement of the EU must be part of our common future, for the sake of enhanced regional peace, security, and prosperity. We therefore recognize the necessity to reflect on how the EU can prepare itself for the future, to remain able to act in a strong and sovereign manner.”

The full declaration may be seen here

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