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I would probably say a few words on the rest of the Foreign Affairs Council upon your request. But I will start by saying that today I think we gave a strong reaction from the European Union side to the tragedies that we have seen in the last days - and still in these very same hours - in the Mediterranean. Let me say that having 41 European Union Ministers, sitting together at the same table, with less than 24 hours notice is not just a sign of good will and a certain degree of flexibility - for which I thank them and the Latvian presidency - but also and mainly it gives the idea of a new sense of urgency, a new sense of political will from the European Union side to tackle the issue of migration and the trafficking and smuggling of people across the Mediterranean.
I would say that today we have a new European level of awareness that this is a European issue, not of single Member State, and that we need to act, to act fast, and to act united. This is not just a call from some but a response from all. As after the Paris attacks in January we developed, as the European Union, a truly European sense of urgency and solidarity to counter terrorism, I think that today we are developing a truly European sense of urgency and solidarity in fighting human trafficking and saving lives. And let me add, on a personal note, FINALLY so. We have worked today, together, Foreign Ministers, Interior Ministers, different European institutions, all together, all coordinated on different levels of European Union action. First we discussed and tackled our tools to address the root causes of these tragedies, the reasons why people leave their own countries and "choose" to pay money, sometimes to pay with their lives, to go to better places. Which means the need to increase our diplomatic work and coordinated work to solve the many wars and conflicts we have around us and increasingly so, to tackle the issue of poverty in a much more effective way and the issue of violation of Human rights in large parts of the world.
Second, we worked – as you know this was intended to be the main objective of the meeting of the Foreign Ministers today – on the actions we can take to help solve the crisis in Libya. Because we all know very well that the flow of refugees and migrants go through Libya, a place where there is not a State entity able to control territory and borders, land borders and sea borders, in an effective way that creates a perfect corridor for organisations trafficking and smuggling human beings. We discussed and decided – even if not formally because we are not there yet – all possible means of support from the European Union's side to the formation of a government of national unity. We invite very strongly all Libyans to share the same sense of urgency that we feel today, not only to save their country but also to save many human lives that are put at risk in their own territory. It's not only for them, for their children, but also for the children, women and men that died at sea, that they have to share this responsibility, get together and find ways of putting the country back on track. The European Union is ready to support the Government of National Unity with all our means, from humanitarian to civilian, from borders management to institution-building including through Common Security and Defence Policy measures, which might be decided in the moment we have a national unity government and an international framework to do so.
Then with the Interior Ministers and with Commissioner Avramopoulos we discussed more in detail our response to the trafficking of people and I would say that three main elements of consensus emerged (and then I will obviously give the floor to the other two speakers for the details). I would say for my part: first, I've seen a broad consensus on the need to fight united against traffickers and smugglers of human beings. We have identified some actions, some of them can be implemented in a reasonably short period of time, in particular I am thinking of strengthening our presence in Niger where we already have a mission EUCAP Sahel that can be strengthened and that can solve the crucial element of one of the ways of access to Libya through its Southern border. We've talked about other measures: intelligence, cooperation, regional protection programmes but also the issue of destroying ships, something that the Commissioner will include in his remarks. The second element that emerged as consensual is the need to strengthen our duty to save lives at sea, this means for sure a stronger Triton and Poseidon, with more funds, with more coverage, with more links to rescue obligations and to address search and rescue in a more structured, long term way, and to strengthen FRONTEX accordingly. The third element that emerged is for sure the need to share the responsibilities within the European Union when it comes to resettlement and relocations of refugees. Obviously we need cooperation with the UNHCR on this but we have an internal reflection to develop. I think that along these three lines – especially when it comes to giving special support to Member States that are on the front line, such as, in this case, Southern European countries, our common, joint responsibility and share responsibilities and duties in a more even way.
Last but not least, let me say that our cooperation in these last 24-48 hours has been excellent. I am particularly happy of the fact that President Tusk just convened a European Council on Thursday, so that the Heads of State and Government can build not only on the discussions, but also on the decisions we have taken today.
Let me thank very much Commissioner Avramopoulos for the extraordinary coordination we have, I think, managed in these hours and days and also the Latvian Presidency that has supported the convening of this meeting today and all the process, also towards the European Council on Thursday in very a strong and appreciated way.
Let me also say that we have agreed with Vice-President Timmermans to task our services at the highest level to find options for swift operational action.
You see today, you would have seen it with a little bit more emphasis if we didn't have these extraordinary circumstances, the fact that our services have worked among and across the institutions to prepare a 50 page plan for Libya and EU actions on Libya. We need to have exactly the same level of effort and of integration of EU tools when it comes to our efforts to face migration and people being trafficked and smuggled. And we have decided to set up a joint task force to counter smuggling and trafficking networks that can be operational already from the very first days following tomorrow.
Let me thank you very much again, and also all the Ministers. Let me say it very clearly, because the day before yesterday and yesterday we were all thinking, I think, in the depths of our hearts, that this was not only a tragedy at sea, this was not only a tragedy for the people losing their lives and losing their loved ones, but this could and can still be a tragedy for Europe.
A Europe that is called to show responsibility, capacity of action and of unity and I would like to thank the Ministers, the Commissioner, the Presidency for having shown that the first step in the direction of a good European response finally can be taken.
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