Author: Martin Banks
The move has surprised human rights campaigners because of Egypt’s alleged rights abuses.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country currently holds the 28-member bloc’s rotating presidency, announced the plan for “in-depth cooperation” with Cairo on Thursday at the EU summit in Salzburg.
He said, “Egypt and the North African countries can be important partners for us in preventing ships heading to Europe and after their rescue being brought back, in other words to the countries of transit.”
“Only in this way can we reduce illegal migration, can we destroy the business model of the smugglers, and stop drownings in the Mediterranean.”
Migration was discussed by the EU leaders although the gathering was partly overshadowed by Brexit.
Speaking at the end of the meeting on plans for closer cooperation on migration with Egypt, Tusk said, “Together with chancellor Kurz we have started a dialogue with the Egyptian President and now we can say that there is a backing from the European Council for this and similar dialogues.”
Tusk confirmed that he will meet Egyptian President Al Sisi on Sunday “to take this forward.”
He added, “We will be reaching out to other African partners in the coming weeks, with Chancellor Kurz, the Commission and also with a group of member states. In this context we also agreed to organise a summit with the League of Arab States in February next year, in Egypt.”
Tusk went on, “The migration debate showed that we may not agree on everything, but we agree on the main goal, which is stemming illegal migration to Europe. There was a constructive debate and good atmosphere and we decided to continue our focus on what unites us and what has already brought results.
“This means strengthening our external borders as well as strengthening cooperation with third countries. Such cooperation should not be just on migration or fighting smugglers and traffickers. It should be about a much broader vision of partnership.”
Elsewhere, Philippe Lamberts, joint leader of Parliament’s Greens/EFA group, told this website on Friday, “The heads of state and government must not shift their responsibility for refugees onto Egypt and turn Frontex into a deportation agency.
“It is hypocritical to pretend that underhand deals with African countries will solve the refugee question. At the Africa summit in December EU governments must clarify the issue of distribution and tackle the causes of migration flows.”
Further comment came from Giulia Lagana, a senior analyst at the Brussels-based Open Society European Policy Institute, who said the EU’s move to win Egyptian assistance on migration would likely require the bloc to make “significant concessions” to Cairo.
The number of migrants arriving in Europe is down significantly compared with 2015, when more than a million people entered the continent, most fleeing conflict in Syria and Iraq.
About 77,555 migrants and refugees have entered Europe by sea so far this year, according to the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), down from 131,884 arrivals by a similar point last year and 298,663 for the same period in 2016.