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Thank you very much George [Vella, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malta].
Just to underline, first of all, that the work has obviously formally started already since quite some months, but for me this is an excellent opportunity to link an official visit to Malta with the Presidency. It is not the first time I come, I was already here last year for the Valetta Summit, also being part of our work with the incoming Presidency.
It is an excellent timing for a Maltese Presidency that aims at focusing more and more on the Mediterranean. It will not be a surprise to any of you, given my national background, that I find it extremely important that we use the Maltese Presidency to realise at full, as George was saying, that the Mediterranean is first a European Sea and that is a channel, a bridge, across different continents. The Maltese Presidency I believe will offer the European Union the opportunity to work with the southern side of the Mediterranean, with Africa, not only in managing migration but also in terms of partnership and investments and growth.
We will use the Presidency also to prepare the next EU-Africa Summit that will take place in 2017, building on the very good results of the Valetta Summit, but again going beyond the management of migration we are doing in partnership with our African friends and building on the Maltese experience in being at the center of our common Mediterranean Sea. It will also be an excellent opportunity to see the positive agenda we have across the Mediterranean.
George was mentioning the possibility of having good game changer news, hopefully, around Cyprus in the coming months, but also the need to work on our own youth - I am just coming from Tunisia - the need to invest in the exchanges of our students, of our researchers, of our investors across the Mediterranean. This is a big opportunity not only for the countries of North Africa and the Middle East but also for the European countries to rediscover the Mediterranean Sea as a space of exchanges and not only as a place of troubles.
Obviously, we also have to deal with the crises, starting from Libya.That is a key priority not only for Malta or other countries that are more geographically close to Libya but also for the entire European Union. I believe that looking back at the last two years, when I started my mandate exactly two years ago yesterday: migration in Libya, the work we are doing with the Mediterranean countries and with Africa, came up in an incredible way in our common European priorities, not only because of our agenda pushes in that direction but also as a clear political choice.
And I am sure that the Maltese Presidency will help strengthening this political choice so that we focus all together, all Europeans together, on building the opportunities and facing the challenges across the Mediterranean. It will not only be about that, but for sure the focus on the Mediterranean and on migration will be the key of our common work.
I will stop here, by thanking George personally and the Maltese government and also the people for what I believe will be an excellent Presidency, managing to face I am sure complicated times. As maybe an element of reassurance, it is now since quite some time that the Presidencies face complicated interesting times, but always managing to keep the unity of the European Union; and the fact that what is usually referred to us as a small country does not give you less elements of reassurance. On the contrary, I shared with the Minister the fact that Malta is a key country, a wise country, that has the vocation of being a bridge; and I think this is extremely helpful and useful in these moments in our relations but also in terms of strengthening the unity of our European Union.
Q. UN agency said that numbers on migrants dying are high - how will this impact you approach? And you mentioned the possible reunification of Cyprus - won't this impact on the relations with Turkey?
On the second question, I was in Cyprus just a few days ago. This is a process - the negotiations to unite the island to make it finally united European island - that the UN is leading but the leaderships on the ground in Cyprus is fully committed to this process. It is a process that we discussed also in Ankara. Our relations with Turkey are not only limited to refugees or Syria; [they] are also focusing on the issue of Cyprus or on other chapters of our cooperation and are extremely important for all of us. And what I have seen so far is the determination also in Ankara to facilitate and to make it possible that this historical achievement could be reached in the coming weeks. Again, this is in the hands of the Cypriot leaders and the UN facilitation process, but the European Union is at their side and is ready to welcome a unified island inside the European Union, with good relations with Turkey.
When it comes to the number of people dying in the Mediterranean Sea: we have established as you know a EU military operation in the Mediterranean - to which by the way Malta is very fruitful contributing - that has as the first purpose dismantling, trying to dismantle the business model of human trafficking at sea but also at land. We are operating in the international waters. The main purpose of the operation is not that of saving lives, but rather of dismantling networks. There is a number of suspected smugglers who have already been arrested, vessels that have been seized. As we know very well, the operation is also saving lives and allowing others, especially the Italian navy, to save lives at sea. I think this is something to be proud of. I know this is an issue hardly raised in the European public opinion, but as a human being I felt very ashamed a few years ago because of the large number people dying in the Mediterranean waters. Now I feel proud for every single life that we manage to save; obviously for every person who is saved there are also those who we don't manage to save, and even one single life lost at sea is for us a deep, deep shock.
But there is another element that needs to be tackled. We have started to work on this with much more focus after the Valetta Summit last year, with the Migration Compacts which is the work at hand. Because what we see in the Mediterranean in only a tip of the iceberg. There are people dying in desert, there are people dying all the way to the shores of the Mediterranean, they are far away from our eyes, from media, but are still dying or they are facing terrible conditions, especially women and children. So what we are doing now, we started it since some months, is building these Migration Compacts with countries of origin and transit. This is going to be part of our work also during the Presidency.
We started to see the first results, especially in Niger which as you know it is the main transit country heading into Libya and then to the Mediterranean Sea, and starting to cooperate strongly with the authorities of Niger, especially in Agadez, to make the live of the smugglers more difficult, starting to have smugglers arrested in Niger and starting to have vehicles seized in Niger, and starting in parallel to offer economic alternatives to the communities that otherwise have only the human smuggling and trafficking as an economic source of income.
So this is a complex work that we started to do with our own resources and money coming from the EU budget, in partnership with the authorities in these five priority countries – Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia and Mali – and we started to see the first results. Obviously, this is more a mid-term investment but we are starting to see the first results. We started to see the IOM in Niger for instance starting to arrange voluntary returns, so the machine of the international partnership in terms of managing this phenomena and preventing the loss of lives has started to work in a process that was never so intense before.
And this is because I believe the European Union finally realised that what we need to manage migration and to prevent the loss of lives is partnership with Africa based on economic investments, respect and promotion of human rights, rule of law and governance and also creation of economic opportunities on the ground and including the control of the territory and of the sea that allows us to dismantle these traffickers' networks. I am sorry I have been too long but this was a very serious issue and these are exactly the first results, the initial results, of what we have built at the Valetta Summit here one year ago.
So this is why I think the Maltese Presidency and the Maltese leadership in this respect is going to help and guide the European Union's work also in the future months with the very intense work that we have finally started together with all the Member States fully onboard; and again starting to see the first results that are first and foremost going to save lives and make the management of migration more sustainable for all of us, for our African friends, for our Mediterranean friends.
Q. Has the European Union given its directive to the Mediterranean Member States not to support the Russian fleets in the Mediterranean?
That is something that we have never discussed or raised. There is, I understand that from a media point of view, a tendency of separating the European Union from the Member States. The European Union is the Member States and whatever decision we take, we take it together and implement it together, so it is not an abstract entity in Brussels taking decisions and dictating Member States on what to do and not to do. In the Council together, as the Minister mentioned, we take decisions and together we implement them. It is clean work, but there is no direct reference to what you mentioned.