In a bid to address the challenges posed by people-smuggling networks and irregular migration, the European Union (EU) is considering a comprehensive partnership with Egypt. Following a recent shipwreck disaster off the coast of Greece that claimed the lives of at least 81 individuals, nine Egyptians have been apprehended on suspicion of people-smuggling.
The EU leaders, during a summit, expressed support for a €1 billion deal with Tunisia and are now exploring similar arrangements with other African countries, including Egypt, to tackle the underlying causes of migration-related fatalities and disappearances.
The Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, highlighted the positive example set by the Tunisian deal and emphasized the potential for similar cooperation with other nations. The groundwork for discussions with Egypt may have been laid when the EU’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, pledged €20 million to assist Egypt in supporting refugees from Sudan during a recent visit.
However, not all EU member states were united in their approach to migration policy. Prior to the summit, Poland, which had opposed recent draft migration legislation, demanded a reopening of the lawmaking process. Poland proposed new wording that emphasized member states’ sovereign right to shape their migration policies and decide whom to accept on their territories, which diverged from the concept of “mandatory solidarity” agreed upon in Luxembourg. Poland also advocated for member states, rather than the EU, to determine the best ways to support countries affected by significant migrant influxes.
While EU leaders had anticipated finalizing the partnership with Tunisia during the summit, negotiations on the details are ongoing due to remaining controversies. The EU aims to secure guarantees on human rights protections but has not made the specifics public.
In response to requests from eight member states, including Denmark, Austria, and Greece, for innovative solutions to irregular migration, discussions have reportedly considered alternative approaches, such as sending asylum seekers to third countries for processing. This suggestion was reminiscent of the UK’s unlawful plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, which were recently ruled against by a London court. Member states were divided on this issue, with some expressing support and others firmly opposed. Nevertheless, the EU hoped that demonstrating openness to exploring alternative solutions would address the concerns of countries like Denmark and Greece.
When questioned about the confidentiality surrounding the Tunisian deal’s details, diplomats emphasized that the package extended beyond migration. It encompassed support for a reform agenda outlined by the International Monetary Fund, funding for research and education, and the Medusa digital cable link to Europe.
During the summit, the 27 EU leaders also solidified their commitment to Ukraine by pledging to increase military and recovery support. Responding to Estonia’s request, they agreed to enhance defense readiness to address ammunition shortages experienced during the first year of the conflict in Ukraine. Furthermore, progress was made toward establishing a tribunal to try “crimes of aggression” alongside the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Security commitments to Ukraine and the issue of frozen assets were additional topics on the agenda. Leaders were asked to provide in-principal agreement to levy a “windfall contribution” on €100 billion of Russian sovereign funds held in Brussels. Senior advisers to the commission deemed this levy legally permissible, and further discussions with the United States, the United Kingdom, and other G7 nations are expected before implementation.
As the EU seeks to strengthen its partnerships and adopt innovative approaches, its leaders hope to tackle the complex issue of people-smuggling networks and find lasting solutions to irregular migration, while ensuring respect for human rights and addressing the concerns of member states.