In Thursday’s five-hour emergency meeting of the European Council on the issue of immigration, representatives of the 28 member states agreed to triple funding for the Triton operation of European border protection. Its new 120 million euro budget is now aligned with resources allocated to its predecessor operation, called “Mare Nostrum.”
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who called the summit after the weekend shipwreck of a migrant vessel off the Libyan coast in which about 800 people died, was clearly pleased with the results of the meeting. In a press conference in Brussels following the gathering, he called it “a significant summit, a big step forward for Europe.” While allowing that in all EU documents “there is a danger of muddiness,” Renzi said that at least “today for the first time there is a strategy.”
After perhaps the greatest tragedy ever seen in the Mediterranean, Renzi insisted that the migrant crisis “is no longer just a problem of Italy and Malta, but it is a matter of humanitarian law, security and justice.”
“We wanted to move quickly,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “So we will triple the financial resources for the relevant missions of Frontex, clearly improve them.”
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he was pleased EU leaders had agreed with his proposal to triple the budget for the EU’s Triton operation.
“We felt that doubling it wasn’t really that credible, so we wanted to bring it up to the same level as we had for Mare Nostrum,” he said, referring to the Italian naval search and rescue operation that was replaced by the current Triton mission.
Although Mare Nostrum’s mandate was focused on search and rescue, Triton’s mandate remains border protection.
The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, explained, however, that even though Triton’s mandate has not changed, the operation could be expanded to include search and rescue, as well. “There is no limit, either juridical or geographical, keeping Triton from carrying out the mission of search and rescue,” Tusk said.
The council also approved an ad hoc mission to destroy the boats of smugglers as a preemptive strike to prevent the embarkation of undocumented immigrants to Europe. France’s President Hollande announced he would ask for UN authorization to carry out military strikes to destroy the traffickers’ vessels.
The government of Tripoli—one of three governments in Libya and not recognized by the EU—has already sent a shot across the bow, letting it be known through Foreign Minister Muhammed el-Ghirani that Libya “would never accept the EU bombing alleged traffickers bases.”
But there were several thorny topics in which the EU representatives could not come to a consensus. Most difficult of all is the redistribution of asylum seekers among various European countries, and not only in the country of first landing. The issue directly affects national interests, such as those of Britain at election time. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who attended the summit, promised a ready supply of weapons and financial resources, but only on the condition that refugees not “require asylum in Britain.”
Nothing was definitively resolved by Thursday’s meeting, but getting the 28 countries to sit down to discuss the issue was already a minor victory and signaled the beginning of a common strategy to address the mounting problem of European immigration.
This, at least, seemed to be Renzi’s thought, as he said that “finally something has changed in Europe.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.