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30 May 2023

Trump looms over EU's Malta summit

Pic: AFP


Fears that US President Donald Trump's policies pose an existential threat to Europe are set to overshadow EU leaders' talks on multiple crises at a summit in Malta this week.

Curbing migration from Libya and dealing with the aftermath of Britain's vote to leave the European Union were meant to be the dominant themes of Friday's summit in Valletta.

But at their first meeting since the new US president took office, the national leaders will now also discuss the need for unity amid worries about Trump's commitment to the decades-old transatlantic alliance.

In an extraordinary sign of concern, EU President Donald Tusk on Tuesday ranked Trump along with Russia, China, Islamic extremism and domestic populism as the biggest "threats" to the bloc in its 60-year history.

From his controversial ban on migration from seven mainly Muslim countries, to backing a break-up of the EU and dismissing NATO as obsolete, Trump is barely able to open his mouth without ringing alarm bells in Europe.

"Worrying declarations by the new American administration... make our future highly unpredictable," former Polish premier Tusk wrote in an almost apocalyptic letter to the EU leaders.

One EU diplomat told AFP: "This is a new way of governing — is each tweet a political act, or just the expression of a particular mood?"

Future of the EU

The letter sets out European Council chief Tusk's thoughts in relation to a debate on the "future of the EU" that 27 of the leaders — minus British Prime Minister Theresa May — will have in Malta.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, whose country is one of the EU's founding members, also confirmed that "transatlantic relations" including Trump's migration ban would be on the agenda.

"I have spoken to several of my European partners and we share the same position: we do not approve of any order that also concerns Europeans with dual nationality," he said.

Yet one question facing the EU leaders will be how strongly they can condemn Trump's migration policies, when they are themselves discussing how to put up their own barriers.

The EU slashed migrant numbers coming through Greece through a controversial deal with Turkey, and the Malta summit will discuss how to stop those making the dangerous crossing from north Africa, especially from Libya.

The EU leaders are expected to issue a declaration with steps including increasing support for the Libyan coastguard and pushing on with migration deals with other African countries.

Summit host Malta's calls for a Turkey-style deal with Libya are however unlikely to bear fruit, since the chaos following the 2011 fall of Moamer Kadhafi makes it hard for the EU to know who to even deal with there.

But pressure is growing on the EU to act on what Germany called the "catastrophic" human rights system for migrants in Libya, amid reports of "concentration camp-like" conditions in smuggler-run camps.

Tusk said in his invitation letter that EU leaders must "protect our external border while helping the Libyan authorities provide decent reception facilities on their territory."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Tuesday for the EU to make more efforts to stabilise Libya. "We can't just talk, we must also do something," she said.

Difficult situation

After the migration discussion in Malta's Grandmaster's Palace, the leaders will move to a new venue "across the bay" to have lunch to discuss the "international situation", Tusk's letter says.

Britain's May will then leave as the other 27 discuss preparations for a major summit in Italy in March to celebrate the 60th anniversary this year of the Treaty of Rome which founded the EU.

The Rome summit will set out a roadmap for the EU after Britain leaves — expected in 2019 — but Tusk made it clear that the bloc must unite in the face of a host of problems including Trump's unpredictability.

"The change in Washington puts the European Union in a difficult situation," Tusk wrote in his letter, urging EU leaders in his letter to take "spectacular steps" to boost European integration.