Friday

22nd Mar 2019

Migration and Middle East top EU agenda at UN

  • Pope Francis is expected to urge more compassion for refugees (Photo: European Parliament)

The migrant crisis and the Middle East Peace Process will top the EU's agenda when world leaders meet in New York for the UN general assembly.

The event begins on 28 September and lasts one week.

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This year's edition will start with a speech by Pope Francis, on 25 September, likely urging European countries to show compassion to refugees.

It will see Palestine, a UN "observer state", hang its flag on the UN building for the first time in history.

It will see Russian leader Vladimir Putin come for the first time in 10 years and not long after invading Ukraine.

It will also hear from Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, the current chair of the African Union, and Sudan's fugitive president Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

For his part, Council chief Donald Tusk got a good spot to speak on behalf of the EU - shortly before lunch on 29 September.

But the big EU day is 30 September, when UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon chairs a high-level meeting on migration, while EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini chairs an event on Middle East peace talks.

The Ban Ki-moon meeting is to bring together leaders from EU "target" states, as well as Middle East and African migrant "transit" and "origin" countries. South-east Asian leaders might also attend.

"The EU's going to catch it [criticism] from all sides", a diplomatic source told EUobserver.

"This is a major event which will mark a milestone on the way to Valetta", he added, referring to an upcoming EU migration summit in Malta.

Quartet +

The Mogherini meeting is to launch a new model for Arab-Israeli peace talks.

The EU plan, based on a French proposal in July, is to enlarge the Quartet, the UN body dealing with the issue, to involve Arab states.

The Quartet includes the EU, Russia, the UN, and the US.

France had said the "Quartet +" should involve: the five UN Security Council veto-holders (China, France, Russia, the UK, and the US); Germany; Italy; Spain; Arab states; the EU; and the UN.

Mogherini's event is to be limited to Quartet foreign ministers and their counterparts from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab League only, however.

EU diplomats said the French blueprint was torn up at an informal EU ministers' meeting two weeks ago.

"Mogherini didn't like it because it would dilute the EU insitutions' role in the process", one contact said. A second source said the UN didn't like it for the same reason.

The Quartet + project in any case replaces an earlier French idea - a UN Security Council resolution giving Israel and Palestine a two-year deadline to come to terms.

An EU source said the two-year plan "ran out of gas" in terms of international support, but could be revived if the Quartet + fails.

Poverty, climate

In other EU events, European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans will, on 27 September, address a meeting on eradicating global poverty.

Aid commissioner Neven Mimica is also taking part, but sources said Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker won't attend.

On the same day, France will take centre stage at climate change talks ahead of the Paris summit in December.

Mogherini will also co-chair a meeting on 29 September on how to get more humanitarian aid into Syria.

EU navies

Meanwhile, the UK will be angling for support for its draft resolution on the EU's anti-smuggler naval operation, EUnavfor Med.

A contact familiar with the draft text said it aims to authorise military action in a limited maritime zone which connects Libyan waters to Italy.

It would also allow EU navies to take migrants and suspected smugglers to Italy, where authorities will decide who merits asylum, who should be deported, and who should face criminal charges.

The EU says it doesn't need UN Security Council (UNSC) approval for this phase of the operation.

But a diplomatic contact said the UK, for one, wants "UNSC cover" in case clashes with smugglers cause "incidents", alluding to loss of life.

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