Caution aired against utopian expectations of EU-Arab summit

SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt (AFP) – European and Arab leaders called for joint solutions to Middle East conflicts destabilising both regions while one cautioned yesterday against raising utopian expectations from their first-ever summit.

Around 40 European Union (EU) and Arab leaders held the last day of their two-day summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh stressing how their challenges were interlinked, from migration to terrorism.

EU sources told AFP that many leaders continued yesterday to voice concerns about the wars in Yemen and Syria, the unrest in Libya and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But one EU source told AFP that a smaller session focussed on these problems did not take place to allow more time for all leaders to give their speeches.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said the summit was important for acknowledging cultural, religious and other differences while trying to find “joint solutions”, such as in Syria.

He cautioned against raising high expectations.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) and European Council President Donald Tusk (C) during the final session of the first joint European Union (EU) and Arab League summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. – PHOTOS: AFP
EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini during the summit

He said the summit was nonetheless important for laying the groundwork for future talks as well as a way to establish personal contacts.

“The fate of the EU depends to a significant degree on the fate of the countries of the Arab League,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told journalists. “We saw this in the context of migration, of refugees, and therefore the task is to nurture multilateral cooperation, even if at times there are very different viewpoints.”

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel earlier echoed an EU admission it should have long ago held a full summits with leaders of a neighbouring region whose fates are linked.

“The situations in this (Arab) region cause instability, insecurity, first of all for the region,” Michel told journalists before joining the last day of talks.

“There are countries which have numerous refugees following conflicts in the region, in Syria for example, but that also has an impact in Europe,” Michel said.

Like the EU as a whole, Michel’s own coalition government has split over migration, which four years ago became Europe’s worst such crisis since World War II.

More than one million people, most of them fleeing the war in Syria, entered the bloc in 2015. Eastern EU governments have refused to admit asylum seekers landing in frontline states like Italy and Greece.

Conflict-wracked Libya meanwhile is used as a staging area by smugglers and traffickers to take economic migrants and asylum seekers to Italian shores.

European leaders have also stressed the need to defuse conflicts in the region because they are linked to extremists implicated in a wave of terrorist attacks in Europe.

Arabs and Europeans have both been battling the Islamic State (IS) group, and its followers. The group has territorially been pushed out of its strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

The summit in the southern Sinai desert was heavily guarded by Egyptian security forces who are fighting a bloody extremist insurgency a short distance to the north.

In his opening speech last Sunday, host Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stressed the need to resolve the Middle East wars and conflicts.

He also called for Arab and EU economic cooperation and warned of “mounting risks and challenges” including terrorism and migration.

“Has not the time come to agree on a comprehensive approach on combatting terrorism?” Sisi asked.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said last Sunday the two sides “share the same concerns when it comes to fighting terrorism, preventing radicalisation”.

She called for “offering opportunities to young people in our region and dealing with conflict and crisis”.

Mogherini also said, “We largely share the same positions” on Syria, the Arab-Israeli peace process, Yemen and Libya.