Institutional Affairs

  • Aerial view of Malta. Southern EU countries are in the front line of the Arab spring fallout (Photo: European Commission)

Italy and Malta want special summits on Africa crisis

14.02.11 @ 18:08

  1. By Leigh Phillips

BRUSSELS - Italy and Malta are pressing for special summits to deal with the "epic emergency" resulting from the upheaval in north Africa.

While the focus for the two states on the ramparts of Fortress Europe is to be a feared wave of irregular migration caused by the the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, the stability of the region as a whole must also be talked about, the two EU countries are saying.

On Friday (11 February), Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League, sent a letter to the Hungarian rotating presidency of the EU requesting that Budapest put the topic of migration via the Maghreb on the table of the next meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers, scheduled for 24-25 February.

It is understood that as of Monday, the Italian government wants instead an extraordinary summit of EU premiers and presidents in the coming days to tackle the wider issues.

The demand from Rome echoes a call by the Italian delegation of conservative MEPs in the European Parliament on Monday lest southern EU states "be left alone to deal with this urgency."

"It is absolutely essential to convene an extraordinary EU Council ... in the next few days to deal with an epic emergency comparable in intensity and scale to the fall of the Soviet Bloc in 1989", said Mario Mauro MEP, the head of the Italian delegation in the chamber, in a letter to EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy."What is happening in the Maghreb countries has to fully put into question the weakness of the EU Mediterranean Strategy," he continued.

Hungarian sources told EUobserver that Budapest "will do all it can to accommodate the Italians," but the timing is tight, and it is far from certain whether other EU member states will view the situation the same way as Rome.

Meanwhile, Malta is busy making emergency preparations in concert with the Libyan government to turn a previously scheduled Mediterranean security meeting into a head-of-state-level summit on the north African situation. The group normally meets at minister-level. If it takes place, the summit would be the first top-level so-called Five Plus Five summit since 2003.

The Five Plus Five is a security club bringing together Algeria, France, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, and Tunisia. It is entirely separate of the EU.

Malta's prime minister, Lawrence Gonzi, and foreign minister, Tonio Borg, took a surprise trip to Tripoli last Wednesday amid fears that anti-government protests in Libya, its long-time anti-immigration ally, could threaten its border security.

According to Mr Borg, the pair were in Libya to discuss "stability in the region" and the Five Plus Five summit with Libyan hardman Moammar Gaddafi.

Upon his return from Tripoli, Mr Borg hit out at the EU, according to the Times of Malta, warning the bloc to "desist from adopting a condescending attitude towards Arab states" and plans to "mould their government[s] into Western templates".

A Maltese diplomat confirmed to EUobserver that Valetta is pushing forward with the Five Plus Five discussions but that the topic is "sensitive".

"The fact that the summit will take place at a moment when political turmoil in north African countries has changed the political landscape and has ushered in a prospect of a democratic process has made this summit more relevant than before," added the diplomat. "The main concern of a number of countries about the upheavals that we have witnessed is that extremist groups might hijack the change promoted by secular and democratic forces."

The summit is to be preceded by a meeting of Five Plus Five foreign ministers in April in Naples.