German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi highlighted new proposals aimed at establishing a joint training mission in Tunisia to strengthen security forces in neighboring Libya. The move by the two neighbors was reportedly aimed at curbing the flow of Libyan migrants into Europe, who often have to undertake perilous boat journeys across the Mediterranean Sea sailing toward Italian territory, notably the island of Lampedusa.
According to Chancellor Merkel, both countries have "maximum interest" in boosting Libya's security in order to combat illegal immigration and human trafficking. The chancellor added that details about the intended training mission remained unclear, mainly on account of the slow progress in assembling a unity government in Libya.
"We have to fight illegality and convert it into legality," Merkel said after the bilateral meeting in Berlin.
Prime Minister Renzi meanwhile stressed the need for a lasting solution to the refugee crisis that would involve the sharing of the burden among all European states. He stressed that for many years, the plight of Libyans arriving on Italian soil had been regarded as a national problem for Italy, adding that the events of the past year had made it clear that it had become an issue for Europe as a whole. Renzi also went on to call human traffickers organizing the transit to Europe "slave drivers."
In the face of the threatened integrity of the Schengen area, Renzi said that the prospect of giving up on Schengen as a result of the migrant influx would mean that "we give up on Europe."
Schengen countries stunned by the flow of asylum-seekers have increasingly been resorting to using EU legislation that allows them to temporarily reintroduce border controls, leading to widespread doubts about whether the 26-member free-movement area can survive.
Aid to Turkey
The issue of EU aid to Turkey in a bid to stem the flow of refugees into the EU remained a bone of contention during the bilateral talks. Renzi explained that Italy had agreed to the contribution in principle.
"We have not changed our minds, but we are waiting for our friends in the European Commission and the European Union to answer some questions, which I think are about details, and I hope they can be clarified soon, I hope before the London conference," he explained, referring to the Syria Donors Conference to be held in the British capital on February 4.
Italy had previously blocked a European Union plan to provide Turkey with 3 billion euros ($3.26 billion) in aid in exchange for a commitment to stem the flow of migrants into Europe. Part of the reason for Italy's opposition to the aid package was its concern about Turkey's military action in the southeast of the country, which could then be further financed with EU funds.
Merkel meanwhile urged rapid implementation of the deal with Turkey, saying that progress was needed to begin to get a grip on the refugee issue.
ss/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa, epd)