EU to step up co-operation with north Africa to combat illegal migration

Leaders discussed Commission proposals to beef up the EU’s border agency, Frontex, with 10,000 border guards to be deployed to assist member states facing crisis migration problems

 Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz  talked about what he called a successful visit with European Council president Donald Tusk to Egypt and its willingness to intensify talks with the European Union. Photograph:  Christian Bruna/EPA

Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz talked about what he called a successful visit with European Council president Donald Tusk to Egypt and its willingness to intensify talks with the European Union. Photograph: Christian Bruna/EPA

 

The EU will step up co-operation with the states in north Africa which it hopes to enlist in the fight against illegal migration and trafficking, leaders at the Salzburg summit agreed.

They agreed to convene summits with the African Union in December and with the League of Arab States in February to strengthen links both in the fight against trafficking, handling refugees, and economic development.

The meeting heard a report from Austria’s chancellor Sebastian Kurz – Austria holds the EU rotating presidency – about what he called a successful visit with European Council president Donald Tusk to Egypt and its willingness to intensify talks with the European Union after having cracked down on illegal departures in the past two years.

The debate was a continuation of work done following a fraught discussion in June when member states were deeply divided over the resettlement of refugees throughout Europe. Since the summer, Italy has repeatedly turned away rescue ships carrying hundreds of African migrants to force other EU member countries to share responsibility for them.

The migrants were finally relocated to member states and non-member Albania on an ad-hoc basis, but EU countries have so far found an overall solution elusive.

Kurz, who won the election in Austria on an anti-immigrant platform, has been determined to make the struggle against illegal migration a central plank of his country’s presidency. He has done so by, he says, focusing on what unites member states, acknowledging that the issue of “solidarity” and sharing the resettlement burden will not be resolved.

He said that developing new partnerships with Africa, preventing ships from leaving its shores, was “the only way we can stop traffickers’ business model and stop the drownings.”

To date, however, none of the north African states has shown a willingness to establish “disembarkation platforms” where the EU hopes asylum seekers could be processed quickly and others returned to their homes.

The leaders also discussed Commission proposals to beef up the EU’s border agency, Frontex, with 10,000 border guards to be deployed to assist member states facing crisis migration problems. There was broad support for the plan although reservations were expressed about numbers and the extent of the organisation’s new remit.

Mr Tusk emphasised that strengthening external borders “should be about a much broader vision of partnership”.

They also endorsed Commission proposals to require online platforms to take down terrorist content within an hour of notification and to strengthen the role of the European public prosecutor in combatting terrorism.