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Malta EU summit closes amid optimism, criticism

Merkel: 'Europe has its fate in its hands'

Malta last hosted an EU summit in November 2015. That's before the migration catastrophe, Brexit... and Donald Trump! HERMAN GRECH kept up the updates of the Malta summit throughout the day.

7.20pm: And as the day's proceedings tail off, these are the main points and reactions which emerged from the Malta summit:

  • EU offers €200 million this year to improve Libya camps
  • Training, equipment and support to the Libyan national coast guard and other relevant agencies, among other initiatives
  • Aid groups accuse the EU of abandoning humanitarian values; sceptics say chaotic situation in Libya means deal will never come to fruition
  • Leaders voiced concern over Donald Trump
  • An EU without Britain was also discussed, but details are scant
  • Tusk says he is ready to serve a second term
  • ... Broad consensus among journalists that Valletta provides a stunning EU backdrop

6.55pm: The European Commission appears happy with the outcome:

6.50pm: Donald Tusk has told EU leaders he was ready to serve a second term as their chairman after his current mandate expires at the end of May. So far, the only country openly opposing granting the centrist Tusk a second, 30-month term is his native Poland, now governed by the nationalist-minded party.

6pm: Politico quotes UK government sources saying that Theresa May told EU leaders to "work patiently and constructively" with Trump's America. Confrontation with Trump would only "embolden those who would do us harm".

5.25pm: EU leaders have reconvened for another meeting at the palace in Valletta, this time to discuss the future of Europe without Britain. Theresa May must be back in London by now. Meanwhile, French president Francois Hollande bides his time and stops for a coffee at Cafe Cordina.

Video: Steve Zammit LupiVideo: Steve Zammit Lupi

5pm: In a tough-worded statement, NGO Sea Watch said the Malta summit would force people onto alternative routes.

"Contrary to Trump's plans to build a wall, the EU does not sully its own hands but ropes the Libyan coastguard in to stop people in need. It's like Mexico building a wall the US is paying for."

4.45pm: Angela Merkel tells news conference: the EU is drawing lessons on migration from years 2015-16; it's clear that people smuggling networks have to be tackled. You have to remember how many people perished in the Mediterranean Sea.

4.40pm: Meanwhile, the European Commissioner president's contribution to the press conference was to heap praise of Malta's organisational skills. 

4.30pm: All smiles as Joseph Muscat, Jean Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk hold news conference. Dr Muscat said the EU was today sending a message that one can tackle migration in a level-headed manner, without taking extreme measures. He said the agreement also provides for assistance to the Libyan government to manage camps hosting refugees, which he admitted were not properly managed.

The leaders did not say anything about the fact that the final declaration makes no mention of resettlement or the right for people to claim asylum.

Joseph Muscat and Donald Tusk addressing the news conference. Photo: Matthew MirabelliJoseph Muscat and Donald Tusk addressing the news conference. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

"Is it enough? Time will tell. Today, 12 vessels left Libya. We then need to create humanitarian corridors. It's essentially good news," he said.

Mr Tusk said EU states had agreed to train, equip and support rescuers and will work with the IOM and UNHCR in full respect of human rights.

Mr Tusk steered away from a question probing whether Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin was today the EU's greatest threat. He replied that the important thing was that despite having different "temperaments", EU leaders today showed they were united. 

We need to engage with US but can't remain silent where principles are involved

The Maltese prime minister said leaders had expressed concern on some decisions and attitudes taken by the Trump administration.

"There's no anti-Americanism. We need to engage with US but can't remain silent where principles are involved."

3.40pm: We are waiting for a news conference addressed by the Maltese EU presidency, EU council and EU commission which we should be streaming live.

3.15pm: Over lunch, most EU leaders expressed condemnation for Trump's policies in his first few days of the presidency, with the exception of Poland and a couple of other countries, sources tell Times of Malta.

2.20pm: EU leaders are believed to have Donald Trump on the menu during lunch at Fort St Angelo. From this morning's comments, it's clear the US president does not have much support. Questioned whether Britain could act as a bridge to the US, Dalia Grybauskaitė, the Lithuanian President, said: “I don't think there is a necessity for a bridge - we communicate with the Americans on Twitter.”

2pm: EU leaders sound an optimistic note from this morning's session. Here's the Belgian Prime Minister.

... but humanitarian organisations hit back:

1.10pm: Meanwhile, the Malta declaration on migration is out. Read it here. It says efforts to stabilise Libya are now more important than ever, and the EU will do its utmost to contribute to that objective. There is no mention of resettlement or the right for people to claim asylum.

1pm:  Italy and the European Union have pledged to finance migrant camps in Libya run by the UN-backed government, according to an agreement seen by Reuters, as part of a wider European Union drive to stem immigration from Africa. It was agreed that Rome will also provide training and equipment to fight people smuggling.

But the UN refugee agency said running camps where migrants and refugees are detained in Libya would mean forcing them to live in poor conditions and would put them further risk of abuse.

The UN refugee agency said running camps where migrants are detained in Libya would mean further risk of abuse

12.45pm: After a walkabout and a tour of Barrakka Gardens, the EU leaders go on a boat trip. Journalists in the press room wonder how much time is actually being dedicated to discuss world problems.

Leaders went on a walkabout of Valletta. Video: Mark Zammit CordinaLeaders went on a walkabout of Valletta. Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

12.35pm: A memorandum put forward by Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg says different paths of integration and enhanced cooperation could provide for effective responses to challenges that affect member states in different ways.

Video: ReutersVideo: Reuters

12pm: Meanwhile, some logistics: Anybody working in Valletta realised the city's main streets are in lockdown, amid tight security. Area around the palace is a virtual no-go area as EU leaders go on a walkabout. Valletta provides a stunning backdrop but a lot of shops are shut.

As the leaders are taken on a tour of the magnificent St John's co-Cathedral, the German journalist next to me asks: "Are those the bells that kept me awake all night?"

11.55am: Kurt Sansone reports: An EU plan to stop unfettered migration from Libya will find the backing of European leaders but it remains unclear how it will be implemented on the ground.

"The status quo is unacceptable and something has to be done, this is why we want to train the Libyan coastguard and engage with communities inside the country," an EU diplomat said.

However, he did not have answers for the more practical questions as to who was the EU expected to deal with in the North African state riven by political instability.

Sources close to the European Council said EU sea patrols off Libya will not be extended into Libyan territorial waters, which is why the bloc will seek cooperation with the Libyan coastguard. The EU wants to pump money into Libya to shut down the central Mediterranean migrant route.

Human rights groups have warned Libya remains unsafe and the rights of asylum seekers returned to the country cannot be guaranteed.

11.30am: French president Francois Hollande says it was unacceptable that Donald Trump on what Europe should or shouldn't be. Clearly, the US president has few, if any allies, in the bloc. 

Video: Mark Zammit CordinaVideo: Mark Zammit Cordina

11.15am: Maltese PM Joseph Muscat gives his views on the migration issue:

10.50am: Our photographers say British PM Theresa May was the only one without a portion of cake during the round table, prompting comments that "Britain can't have the cake and eat it".... until someone pointed out the British Prime Minister is diabetic. A portion of fruit was soon on the menu.

Britain can't have the cake and eat it. Photo: Matthew MirabelliBritain can't have the cake and eat it. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

10.45am: A senior EU official rules out, at this stage, that the bloc could get more directly involved in handling asylum seekers inside Africa. "There will be no bazooka," he tells Reuters.

10.05am: Donald Trump's dark shadow clearly looms over this summit. German chancellor Angela Merkel tells reporters: "Europe has its fate in its own hands. The more we are clear about how we define our role in the world, the better we can also take care of our transatlantic relations." S&D Group president Gianni Pittella goes further and calls for a united Europe against Trump.

9.50am: This will be an akward summit for British Prime Minister Theresa May. In the afternoon she will leave the summit as EU leaders discuss Brexit. But this will be her first chance to discuss Brexit face-to-face since she set out her plans and MPs began considering the Bill allowing her to trigger Article 50.

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for the summit.British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for the summit.

9.30am: European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker tells reporters: "Europe stands united today". Austria chancellor Christian Kern says: "Today we have pretty mixed feelings, to be honest, because the tangible aspects of Mr Trump's policy raise some concerns."

9am: A memorandum of understanding was signed last night between Italy and Libya to combat illegal migration, human trafficking and contraband and on reinforcing the borders between Libya and Italy. The summit will probably discuss the details of how such an agreement will work. There's just one problem: Libya remains in a state of chaos and Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj commands little support on the ground. 

7.45am: EU leaders will gather at the palace in Valletta around 9am amid tight security. Traffic in Valletta today might be slightly problematic.

7.40am: The pressures and lobbying from organisations and NGOs have been incessant. This morning, 16 Maltese NGOs called on the European Commission not to respond to the government's call to look into bypassing the so-called principle of non-refoulement where migrants are concerned. "Setting it aside would effectively sign the death sentence for all those people who continue to run away from their homes in search of safety," they said.

7.35am: In the morning, the 28 EU heads of state of government will address the external dimension of migration. They are expected to focus their discussions on the Central Mediterranean route and Libya. A draft of the controversial proposals have been leaked. In the afternoon, discussions will build upon the political reflection on the future of the EU with 27 member states, as the UK's exit looms.

7.30am: All eyes are on Malta today, as EU leaders gather for an informal summit in times of crisis. More than 5,000 migrants died in the Mediterranean in 2016 as they tried to reach Europe. Britain jolted the EU when voters decided to opt out of the bloc, amid rising far-right sentiments in Europe. And then in November, Donald Trump won the US election...

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