Southern EU countries present united front on migration
The heads of seven southern European states pledged on Wednesday to up their efforts to tackle one of the most stubborn thorns in the EU's side: flows of migrants from war-torn and impoverished countries.
The leaders of Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain, meeting in Rome for a working dinner, released a statement saying they were "firmly committed to a common European policy on migration".
The "Southern Seven" tackled issues such as the future of the eurozone and efforts to propel growth, but from crowded reception centres in Greece to boats heading for Spain, the top topic was migrants.
Those on the frontline for arrivals despair of the reluctance of some European countries – such as Poland or the Czech Republic – to share the reception burden.
"We must fight together to put in place a migration policy that shows solidarity with the countries that receive these significant flows," Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told the press.
France's President Emmanuel Macron also slammed the "inconsistencies" in Europe's Dublin asylum rules which force those countries which serve as points of arrival in Europe to shoulder the crisis.
However, the call for a "determined effort" to improve the system steered clear of mentioning the EU bid to relocate migrants – a bid that has angered some countries or been flatly ignored.
For Italy, 2017 was a turning point: the country went from large-scale arrivals in the first six months to a sharp drop-off, thanks to controversial agreements in Libya.
Some 119,000 people landed in Italy last year, down 35 per cent on 2016.
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni boasted of the "encouraging results in the control of (migrant) flows and the fight against human trafficking" and urged Europe to make sure the results would "now be consolidated".
For its part, Spain saw a notable increase in Algerians and Moroccans sailing in, from 6,000 attempting the crossing in 2016 to nearly 23,000 picked up last year.
In Greece, an accord struck between the EU and Turkey limited the number of arrivals to 28,800 – six times fewer than in 2016 – but it did not solve the problem of caring for those who had already made the journey. (AFP)