G7 urged to douse Libyan inferno

G7 nations including France and Britain came under pressure Saturday from Libya's neighbours to help put out the fires of a conflict that is already causing trouble further afield.

G7 urged to douse Libyan inferno
Leaders of the G7 and leaders of some African countries at the summit in Taormina. Photo: Stephane De Sakutin/POOL/AFP

The world's most powerful democracies were joined at annual summit talks by African leaders whose countries are all implicated in the migration crisis affecting Europe.

Lawlessness in Libya has facilitated the transit of hundreds of thousands of African migrants embarking on perilous voyages across the Mediterranean.

And it is now directly implicated in European terrorism after a Briton of Libyan extraction blew himself up at a Manchester concert, killing 22 people including several children.

“The fight against terrorism (in North Africa) demands that urgent measures be taken to extinguish the Libyan cauldron,” Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou told the G7 countries.

Niger lies to Libya's south and Issoufou said a holistic approach was needed to deal with issues surrounding security, economy and extremist ideology.

He urged both the G7 and the United Nations to “devote the means necessary” to set up a rapid reaction force against regional jihadists sought by Niger and other countries in the Sahel region.

France and Britain, two of the G7's top military powers alongside the United States, face particular criticism for helping to topple the Libyan regime of Moamer Kadhafi in 2011 without planning sufficiently for the power vacuum that ensued as the country plunged into chaos.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, at the G7, said the Manchester suicide bomber's links to Libya “undoubtedly shine a spotlight on this largely ungoverned space on the edge of Europe”.

“So we must redouble our support for a UN-led effort that brings all the parties to the negotiating table and reduces the threat of terror from that region,” she said Friday.

In a meeting Saturday on the G7 margins with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi underlined the need for collective action on Libya.

The security challenge, in particular dealing with the proliferation of armed groups, would take “long months to stabilise”, Essebsi said, according to a French official.


How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.