EU chiefs rally to present a united front

Member states are under considerable pressure to meet the migration question head on, writes Juno McEnroe

Donald Tusk: EU must work with Trump, especially on Brexit.

Walls: There has been much talk of building walls.

And also of breaking ties, of leaving unions and agreements. Two weeks of Donald Trump can do this to the world.

EU leaders met yesterday, though, on the small Mediterranean island of Malta and agreed a united front in the face of a very uncertain future.

Taking to the waters at one stage on a lofty ship during the brief informal EU summit, member state leaders had much to discuss.

The EU is literally at sea. Brexit is fast coming, the refugee crisis is set to return, and the US has a new resident in the White House. A very worrying new resident at that.

Amidst this, Taoiseach Enda Kenny carried the concerns of another small island to his counterparts. But how far down the list are Irish issues?

The beginning of the day was marked by an EU 10-point plan to address the migration crisis, in particular the masses of people taking to boats from Libya and the smugglers profiting from crossing into the EU.

EU members agreed to fund border controls, to train Libya’s coastguard, and to stop desperate people trying to reach EU shores from the North coast of Africa. But aid groups reacted.

Médecins Sans Frontières suggested this would see desperate people left trapped in horrendous camps in Libya, a territory in part controlled by militias and gangs.

Nonetheless, it is worrying that the first priority for EU leaders in the wake of US president Donald Trump’s controversial immigration ban was to strengthen frontiers, police borders, and restrict the movements of migrants.

Member states are under considerable pressure to meet the migration question head on. Otherwise, populist fronts may gain numbers in upcoming elections in France and Germany, among other nations.

Given the agendas of the larger members, Mr Kenny will find it increasingly difficult to get the ear of leaders on Brexit and the Irish question.

There are other concerns too, including the future US ambassador to the EU. EU parties want leaders to block the appointment of Ted Malloch, a businessman who likened his goal in the EU to “bringing down the Soviet Union”.

None of these arguments will help Mr Kenny’s attempts to stress Ireland’s needs with regards to Brexit.

Instead, they will consume the time of leaders, even as the triggering of Brexit gets closer. In the face of adversity, though, the Taoiseach was optimistic, saying that “most” leaders around the table in Malta now understand Ireland is a “special case” due to its border with the North.

He also reiterated his promise to raise Irish concerns about the US immigration ban when he meets Mr Trump in the White House next month.

He told reporters he did not fear an “outfall” from confronting the brash US leader.

So it seems our leaders might not have come out fighting back against Donald Trump and US ‘executive orders’ that now surprise or shock nations on a daily basis. Instead, a united front has been agreed.

The EU knows it will have to work with Mr Trump. This is especially true with Brexit, European Council president Donald Tusk told a press conference last night, saying that a strong transatlantic relationship was important. And as the sun fell on Malta, at a dinner leaders turned their attention to the future of the EU.

Mr Kenny revealed during the day’s talks yesterday that he had quoted ‘The Second Coming’ by WB Yeats to his counterparts, referencing the poem’s lines: “The falcon cannot hear the falconer, Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.”

Yeats’s apocalyptic vision has been quoted often since Trump’s election. Mr Kenny said that, given the challenges ahead, Europe needs to stand together.

“I hope that out of that discussion will come a ‘sense of unity’ approach towards dealing with the United States administration, which is on the basis of prosperity and peace and continued engagement right across the entire spectrum,” he said.



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