Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras welcomed French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa and Spain’s State Secretary for the European Union Fernando Eguidazu to the Zappeion Mansion in Athens on September 9. They gathered for the first Mediterranean EU member states leaders’ meeting, also known as the “Club Med.”
Tsipras had decided back in early June to host a meeting of the southern leaders in order to find a common approach towards joint challenges relating to migration, security and the economy. The meeting was just a week before the first informal EU Council is hosted by the Slovak Presidency in Bratislava.
The intention was for the heads of state and government of these seven EU countries to arrive to Bratislava with a common proposal for Europe’s future, the so-called “Athens declaration.”
Therefore, the seven leaders are now prepared to propose five sets of measures: to ensure the internal and external security of Europe, reinforce the cooperation in the Mediterranean and with African countries, foster growth and investment in Europe, strengthen programmes for the youth and, last but not least, to address the challenge of migration.
For instance, in order to ensure the protection of its external borders, they will call on the EU to strengthen controls and interconnection of relevant databases, but also provide the necessary tools, especially in the fields of police and justice, as well as developing cooperation to address the phenomenon of radicalisation, by adequate policies for the peripheries of European urban cities. They will also propose that the EU re-energise its Common Foreign and Security Policy and scale up diplomatic initiatives for conflict-resolution and crisis-management.
On the EU army proposal, the seven leaders suggest developing “European military capacities and the defence industry with a view to reach strategic autonomy, notably through a European research programme and a fund for security and defence, and set up progressively the EU’s planning and conduct capability for European CSDP missions and operations”. This is to be implemented by achieving “full use of the Lisbon Treaty’s potential.”
“The important event of today is that we are here [with] the common will to reinforce the cohesion and unity of Europe,” said Tsipras in his opening remarks during the mini-debriefing session, suggesting that Europe is at a crossroads and that Europe will need to inspire its people at next week’s meeting in Bratislava.
“President Hollande said that Europe’s future is at stake in the Mediterranean,” as those countries represent the forefront of Europe, added Tsipras. “We have to table our own approach, as an answer to national back-folding and entrenchment.”
“We are not and we don’t want to be another initiative towards a new division and disunity of the EU. All we need is a new unity,” said the Greek Prime Minister, announcing the next meeting of the “Club Med” will be held in Portugal.
In turn, Hollande said the meeting in Athens brought together “countries that are different in size and of political sensitivity,” further suggesting that this is a move of “unity and cohesion.” The group of the seven aims for “stability and security” as the countries of Southern Europe have dealt with “difficulties in the name of Europe” during the previous months.
“We will be able to contribute with our own thoughts and conclusions in Bratislava’s meeting,” said Hollande, adding that a key issue to this is by expanding the “Juncker Plan” by increasing capacity and making it applicable to African countries.
Meanwhile, the Cypriot president suggested that “it is obvious that Europe should change political orientation in a series of issues”.
Renzi pointed to Bratislava’s unofficial EU Summit as another challenge. “The real challenge was this meeting that Tsipras organised,” he said, adding it is a first step towards Bratislava, looking to the Maltese Presidency of 2017. “Europe cannot continue listing rules, nationalism and austerity,” said Renzi insisting on a new European model of “soft power”, a more “social Europe, of ideals and beauty.” Spain’s State Secretary Eguidazu endorsed the initiative on behalf of Spain’s caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Portuguese President Costa suggested that Europe should be reviewed in its entirety, while the Maltese prime minister offered his support on behalf of the seven to the EU Commission and the Juncker Plan, asking for a doubling of its funding capacity.
Specifically on the “Juncker Plan”, the seven leaders suggest a re-focus of the key priorities such as digital economy, low-carbon projects for energy, including energy interconnections and transport, infrastructure as well as research and training.”
Furthermore, the EU leaders of the Southern member states, asked for European policies that support financing and investment, including the completion of the Banking Union and incentives for investment at national level, as well as policies and regulations for the digital single market, the energy Union and an industrial strategy.
This should come together with the promotion of employment and improved living and working conditions by implementing decisive growth-oriented structural reforms in order to improve the functioning of the markets, enhance competitiveness and create jobs.
“Investment projects in high unemployment member-states, and cross-border projects of common European interest that foster innovation and market integration,” should also be promoted according to the seven heads of state and government, while tax evasion, aggressive tax planning as well as fiscal dumping must end.
On migration, the effective protection of external borders is “key” for the leaders, who will call on the EU “to step up the secondment of personnel to FRONTEX and EASO for the support of the asylum systems of front-line states, as well as implementing European Council’s conclusions regarding the need to accelerate relocation, which is still advancing at very low rate”. They will also call for the pursuing the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement in order to continue to prevent tragic deaths and migration flows in the Aegean.
The leaders seem to support the EU Commission’s planning, as they will also ask for a new migration policy that fights “against irregular migration, establishing robust readmission and returns arrangements, advancing legal migration and mobility possibilities and addressing the root causes of irregular migration”.