The leaders of the European Union’s member states are to hold an emergency meeting in Brussels next week to discuss developments in Libya and north Africa, as France, the UK and Italy lead calls for a swift revision of the EU’s policy towards the southern Mediterranean.
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The emergency summit will take place on Friday 11 March. Announcing the additional meeting, “in the light of developments in our southern neighbourhood, and Libya in particular”, Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, said that he would make proposals “on the strategic lines of the EU’s reaction”.
The summit would, he said, consider reports from Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, on support for “the transition and transformation processes” and (jointly with the European Commission) on how EU spending programmes might be adapted to help the north African countries.
Italy, fearing massive flows of immigrants, has been calling for a special EU summit to discuss north Africa since 14 February and, even though the fate of Libya is still unclear, France and the UK are both pressing for urgent and substantial changes to the EU’s approach to the southern Mediterranean.
Stefano Stefani, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Italian national parliament, said yesterday that he very much appreciated Van Rompuy’s decision to call the extraordinary summit.
Speaking in Brussels last night, Nick Clegg, the UK’s deputy prime minister, said that the EU had to look at how it would provide the people of north Africa with greater economic opportunity.
The work of the European Investment Bank, the Union for the Mediterranean and the European Neighbourhood Policy should all be reviewed, he said.
“The existing policies, the existing institutional configurations and the existing approach needs to be revamped from top to toe,” Clegg said. “I think there is no sense of thinking somehow we can carry on with business as usual.”
Alain Juppé, who was appointed as France’s foreign minister on Sunday (27 February), told the French national assembly yesterday (2 March) that the French government would be relaunching the Union for the Mediterranean “with the support of all the countries of the European Union”.
But some diplomats in Brussels were warning that a summit might raise unrealistic expectations. “Once you have a summit, people want something to come out of it,” one said.
José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, yesterday urged an end to Muammar Qaddafi’s regime. “It’s time for him to go and to give Libya back to its people,” he said.
But the EU is showing little appetite for direct intervention. The British Prime Minister David Cameron had called on Monday for a no-fly zone but appeared to back-pedal on the idea on Tuesday. Alex Stubb, Finland’s foreign minister, said that the summit should consider “a possible military intervention based on a United Nations Security Council resolution”. He stressed that this was “only a discussion” but that the international community “must keep all options open”.
Stubb said the summit would also have to discuss increased humanitarian aid to deal with the unfolding refugee crisis in Tunisia.
Barroso yesterday dispatched Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid, to the Tunisian-Libyan border. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that more than 75,000 people have crossed the border to date and another 40,000 are waiting to do so. Barroso announced an increase in the Commission’s emergency aid for the refugee crisis from €3 million to €10m. He said that up to €25m might be available to deal with any influx of refugees into Europe.
Stubb said that the EU’s main interest in Libya at this point was to “control immigration” to Europe.
Ilkka Laitinen, the executive director of the EU’s border management agency, Frontex, told the European Parliament on Tuesday (1 March) that there was “no way” that Frontex would push back people in need of international protection. Laitinen warned against “overreaction, speculation and panic” about possible flows of refugees.