Author: DIEGO TORRES
MADRID — The leaders of seven Southern EU countries demanded on Monday a common, “comprehensive” European policy — and the funds required to implement it — to tackle migration from Africa and warned that the Mediterranean Sea is “under extreme migratory pressure.”
The heads of state and government of Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Malta pushed forward the demand in a joint statement after they met in Madrid during the third informal summit of the Southern EU countries.
“EU migration policy must be based on shared responsibility and solidarity with those countries affected by migratory pressure due to their geographical location at the external borders of the Union,” the statement said.
The Southern EU countries group gathered for the first time in Athens in September last year. Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat described it on Monday as the “most pro-European” of all informal groups among EU countries.
The seven countries have common interests on issues like immigration and border control — all but Portugal have a Mediterranean frontier — and fisheries and agriculture.
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy treated his guests to lunch at El Pardo, a royal palace on the outskirts of Madrid, ahead of the European Council on Brexit set for April 29. After the meal, they appeared before the press together, each leader addressing reporters for a few minutes. They allowed no questions.
Rajoy said that a common migration policy was one of the top priorities for the group, and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said the seven Southern European countries share “common geopolitical interests,” especially in terms of “migrant flows.”
The statement envisions strengthening a common EU strategy on migration involving cooperation with countries of origin, transit and destination; fostering the readmission of irregular migrants; and expanding the use of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex).
Jorge Toledo, Spain’s secretary of state for the EU, told POLITICO one of the most important common goals of the group was to push toward a common EU policy on immigration and for the northern countries to pay their fair share.
“We’re the countries that spend the most resources … in border protection,” Toledo said. “And we’re protecting the border of the whole EU, also that of the Northern European countries.”
Although there’s some level of EU funding involved in border management, border controls are basically a national competence.
However, Frontex recently launched the EU border guard, which will take up some roles in emergency times and which will test the borders: If a country fails to pass the test then Frontex can suggest that border is taken over by the EU.
The group also expressed its public allegiance to the European Commission’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and endorsed the official position that the terms of withdrawal must be negotiated before the future relationship between the U.K. and the EU.
The Southern EU countries also pushed for more economic integration and investment policies that can tackle the problem of unemployment in the region, especially among youth.
Finally, the leaders also advocated for more integration in terms of security.
“We want the EU to become a real security and defense provider, a credible force to counter our security challenges,” the statement said.