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Watch live: MED9 leaders call for early EU migration deal

Updated 7pm

Leaders of nine southern Mediterranean countries are addressing the media at the end of a meeting in Valletta as the EU attempts to reach a deal on how to handle asylum seekers and irregular migrants.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, leaders of France, Italy, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain’s State Secretary for the EU gathered in Malta on Friday for the MED 9 summit.

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

The EU leaders are calling on legislatures to step up negotiations on the EU’s Migration Pact and reach an agreement before the end of the European Commission’s current legislative term. 

They are also calling on the EU to step up its efforts to effectively reduce the number of people who depart for Europe from the shores of North African countries and cross the Mediterranean.

Earlier on Friday, the heads of state met in Castille for a series of discussions and bilateral meetings, which were set to focus intensely on migration.

In a joint statement following the meetings, they said that 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.

'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 committment 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.”

In their declaration, the leaders said a stable and prosperous Mediterranean was crucial to maintaining a stable and prosperous Europe and that this could only be maintained by strengthening the EU’s relations with partners in the Southern Neighborhood.

“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 expasion

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.”