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MED9 leaders in Malta call for more EU action to stop migration at source

Updated 8.10pm

The leaders of nine southern EU countries meeting in Malta on Friday called for a "significant increase" in the bloc's efforts to tackle migration at its roots and transit countries.

The MED9 leaders also called for a step up in negotiations on the EU’s Migration Pact and to reach an agreement before the end of the European Commission’s current legislative term. 

The MED9 leaders - Malta's Robert Abela, French president Emmanuel Macron, Italy's prime minister Giorgia Meloni, Portugal's prime minister Antonio Costa, Cypriot president Nikos Christodoulides, Croatia's prime minister Andrej Plenković, Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Slovenia's Robert Golob and Spanish secretary of state for European Affairs Ignacio Navarro Ríos - gathered in Malta as the EU attempts to reach a deal on how to handle asylum seekers and irregular migrants.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel also met the leaders.

The meeting was held as southern Europe, especially Italy and Greece, continues seeing a flow of people fleeing, especially from Africa, with sometimes tragic consequences.

Address the root causes

The Med 9 leaders met in Malta the day after EU interior ministers in Brussels finally made headway on new rules for how the bloc handles asylum seekers and illegal immigration.

The leaders urged the adoption of the revamped Pact on Migration and Asylum, which will seek to relieve pressure on frontline countries by relocating some arrivals to other EU states.

In a joint statement following the meetings at Castille, they said the pact on Migration on Asylum must provide the necessary assurances that the needs of frontline countries will be adequately met.

The union as a whole, they said, must work to improve the rate of returns of failed asylum seekers and third-country nationals with no right to remain in the EU and ensure a solid effort to address the root causes of migration while respecting the protection of fundamental rights and international obligations.

At the same time, the legal and operational aspects of the external borders must be strengthened in the interest of dismantling smuggling networks, they said.

“The EU and the member states need to work jointly on the external dimension of migration to achieve goals set in the Action Plans for the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and Western Balkans and to ensure their effective implementation,” the statement read.

“We, therefore, underline the need for more robust outreach to all our neighbours in the Mediterranean, to the African continent and to key countries of origin and transit, and for building comprehensive and strategic partnerships with these third countries based on mutual trust,” they added, calling for the swift implementation of the agreement between the EU and Tunisia.

Meloni, whose hard-right government was elected a year ago on an anti-migrant ticket, said the redistribution of arriving migrants was not enough.

At least 990 migrants died or went missing in the crossing between June and August, three times the number recorded in the same period last year, the UN's agency for children UNICEF said Friday.

'Russia, cease military activities'

The EU leaders also condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and called on the Russian state to cease military activities and withdraw from the entire territory of Ukraine, adding that they remained committed to supporting Ukraine.

They stressed that the removal of land mines in the region will be crucial for the recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine and that a conference in Zagreb next month will discuss how demining in the region.

They called for all prisoners of war to be treated humanely and for all forcibly removed people, most notably children, to be safely returned as soon as possible, while all attacks on civilians must cease immediately.

The leaders added that the spillover effects of Russia’s war and deteriorating security situation in Sahel and North Africa was impacting security in the Mediterranean, further exacerbated by food insecurity.

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

“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."

Taking on a broader approach that includes the entire African continent, they said, will contribute positively to this effort.

'The Cyprus problem'

They also pledged commitment to a comprehensive settlement of “the Cyprus problem” and called for the appointment of a United Nations Envoy to provide support in this process.

“Türkiye’s concrete contribution to the resumption and conduct of negotiations for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem within the UN framework remains crucial in this respect,” they said.

“We maintain that de-escalation of tensions, respect of international law, and promotion of good-neighbourly relations, are essential for regional stability and cooperation. We look forward to discussing EU-Türkiye relations, based on June 2023 and previous European Council Conclusions.”

“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.

“To this end, we will continue to emphasise the importance of taking this engagement forward on the basis of a comprehensive partnership approach that empowers our Southern Neighbours and that acknowledges their diversity, including by working on increased synergies with the Union for the Mediterranean.

”This should also include identifying common solutions for shared challenges across both shores of the Mediterranean."

High time to tackle climate change

As the occurrence of extreme weather events and natural disasters increases around the Mediterranean, the leaders said it is high time to step up the implementation of commitments to protect the common sea as well as tackle climate change.

“We underline the need for a renewed discussion on European civil protection and crisis management, based on the entire disaster management cycle, focusing on climate change-related disaster aspects,” they said.

“We need to strategically evaluate and strengthen the relevant mechanisms, including the Union Civil Protection Mechanism. We shall further develop our European emergency preparedness and response capacities, encourage private sector actors and individuals’ involvement in civil protection systems, and improve the cooperation between national authorities responsible for civil protection and disaster risk management, including with non-EU partners.”

They stressed that one of their main objectives should remain member states’ direct contribution to the EU’s climate neutrality targets to be achieved by 2050.

EU expansion

Discussing the possibilities of expansion in Europe, the leaders said they remain committed to helping partners seeking EU membership in their path towards accession.

“We reconfirm our full and unequivocal commitment to the European Union membership perspective of the Western Balkans, Moldova, and Ukraine,” they said.

“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 recognise 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.”