Parliament leaders sign joint refugee letter ahead of Valletta summit

Refugees at the harbour side in Mytilini, Greece. [European Parliament]

The heads of three political groups in the European Parliament sent a joint letter yesterday (9 November) to the 28 EU leaders urging them to back the European Commission’s proposals on refugees. EURACTIV Greece reports.

During a European summit in Valletta on 11-12 November, EU leaders will aim to build on existing cooperation processes between Europe and Africa.

“EU and Africa will work in a spirit of partnership to find common solutions to challenges of mutual interest”, reads a statement from the European Council.

In Parliament, political group leaders Manfred Weber (European People’s Party), Gianni Pitella (Socialists & Democrats) and Guy Verhofstadt (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) called on EU leaders to support the proposals put forward by the EU executive for a European Border and Coast Guard, a European asylum and migration system and a European Blue Card.

In a joint statement, the party leaders expressed concern about “the lack of political agreement and strategy demonstrated over the last couple of months by the Council with regard to a joint approach on asylum and migration.”

A “honest” appeal

The letter, presented as a cross-party call, did not make reference to any particular member state.

“It was an honest appeal to find a much-awaited solution for the refugee crisis and avoid the party disputes”, an S&D source told EURACTIV.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, said he was also disturbed by some member states’ unwillingness to contribute to resolving the refugee crisis.

“Europe is moving, but member states are also responsible and urged to implement this policy”, he recently noted.

Avramopoulos added that “some [member states] lead Europe backward, even before the Second World War.”

>>Read: Avramopoulos: Without Turkey’s help, refugee crisis will worsen

Hungary, along with Slovakia, strongly resisted the EU decision, recently adopted by a majority of member states following tough negotiations, to distribute the refugees currently in Italy and Greece across the other 26 EU countries.

“Support Africa”

The three leaders called on the 28 EU leaders to mobilise “more expertise and funding” to assist African countries that “express an interest in cooperating with the EU”.

“It is essential to calibrate our efforts and step up our dialogue with the African Union and the key African countries”, the letter reads.

They also saw an opportunity to “unlock” the potential of the African continent.

“Boosting socio-economic development, job opportunities, especially for youth, and expanding the education partnerships are some of the additional measures to be agreed on in La Valletta”, they said.

“The Union cannot afford another failure or to lose time”, they concluded.

The office of Gabriele Zimmer, the president of leftist GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament, told EURACTIV that her party had not been asked to sign this letter.

Similarly, Philippe Lamperts, co-president of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, told EURACTIV: “We were not invited to their caucus. Our ideas on the subject have already been widely published.”

The European Union has agreed on a plan, resisted by Hungary and several other ex-communist members of the bloc, to share out 160,000 refugees among its members, a small proportion of the 700,000 refugees the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates will reach Europe's borders from the Middle East, Africa and Asia this year.

The EU is also courting Turkey with the promise of money, visa-free travel, and new accession talks if Ankara tries to stem the flow of refugees across its territory.

In the frontline of the refugee influx this year, Greece has been criticised for failing to implement EU law on registering new arrivals. Now, the EU plans to persuade refugees to wait in Greece for paid flights to other countries offering asylum, rather than risk dangerous winter treks through the Balkans.

During a mini-summit with Balkan states on 25 October, Athens committed to hosting 50,000 more refugees by the end of this year. Another 50,000 places should be made available in countries further north along the Balkan road. The EU has promised funds to Greece and the other countries to provide emergency help.

>> Read: Leaders clash at migration mini-summit

  • 11-12 November: Valletta summit on migration

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