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MEDITERRANEAN MIGRANT CRISIS

EUROPEAN UNION

EU leaders triple rescue mission funds

Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to send two navy ships for search and rescue efforts as EU leaders agreed on a plan in Brussels on Thursday to curb the soaring number of migrants dying as they seek a better life in Europe.

EU leaders triple rescue mission funds
EU leaders meet for migration summit in Brussels on April 23rd. Photo: DPA.

Officials also agreed on Thursday to seek UN approval for an EU military operation against people smugglers.

EU leaders decided to triple funds for the bloc's maritime search and rescue operation, as horrific details continued to emerge of last weekend's shipwreck that saw hundreds drown in the Mediterranean's worst migrant disaster.

"If there must still be more, then there must be more. Then it will not fail because of money," Merkel said.

European Council President Donald Tusk said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini had been tasked to "propose action in order to capture and destroy the smugglers' vessels before they can be used."

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi added that leaders from France and Britain — both permanent members of the UN Security Council — had "committed to get a resolution from the United Nations for an intervention in Libya."

But leaders failed to agree on concrete action over the sensitive issue of what to do with migrants — many of whom depart from chaos-ridden Libya — once they land on European shores.

Germany, Italy and Sweden especially had pushed for a fairer distribution of asylum seekers across the EU, with fixed quotas.

"I had hoped we could have been more ambitious but that was not possible," EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said at a post-summit press briefing.

Ahead of the high-profile gathering, poignant events had taken place in Malta and Brussels to try and highlight the tragic human dimension of migrant shipwrecks.

Already, more than 1,750 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean this year — 30 times more than the same period in 2014.

Malta honoured the more than 750 victims of last weekend's shipwreck with an inter-faith funeral service — the wooden coffins of 24 of the dead carried away by soldiers for private burials.

Dozens of migrants in Brussels staged a protest near the EU summit venue, attaching pieces of paper with the names of people who had died onto barbed wire put up as a security measure.

"Esther Down, 9 months old, Nigeria, drowned," read one of the signs.

Military response feasible?

As he arrived at the summit, Prime Minister David Cameron offered to deploy Britain's flagship HMS Bulwark, three helicopters and two patrol ships to the Mediterranean, but stressed any migrant rescued would not have "immediate recourse to claim asylum in the UK."

Other countries also offered up ships to enhance the effectiveness of the Triton search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean.

French President Francois Hollande, meanwhile, said any decision to destroy the traffickers' ships would have to be in line with international law.

"It can only be done through a resolution of the Security Council," he said.

Hollande added that he would raise the issue with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin when he meets him on Friday.

But experts have questioned the feasibility of a military response to the crisis.

"It's not an easy task to go shoot down boats in Libyan ports," a European source who wished to remain anonymous said.

He pointed out that the radical Islamic State group was in control of parts of chaos-ridden Libya.

"They will be delighted to see European soldiers come to them, they are potentially easy targets."

Killed, tossed overboard

Survivor accounts, meanwhile, continued to trickle in as the full horror of Sunday's shipwreck near Libya emerged.

Even before their perilous sea journey, people smugglers beat several migrants to death and killed at least one minor, those who got out alive told investigators.

They said the smugglers operated a reign of terror before taking the migrants by truck to the coast to be ferried by dinghy to the waiting boat.
 
A boy who climbed on to a dinghy before being told to was killed by the smugglers and his body tossed overboard, one survivor told investigators.

The skipper, Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, was one of the 28 survivors and faces charges of illegal confinement, culpable homicide, causing a shipwreck and aiding illegal immigration.

9 mn euros a month

Triton's funding will increase from the current three million euros ($3.2 million) a month to nine million euros.

But Tusk said the mission would continue to carry out its mandate as before, going no further than 30 nautical miles from European shores — far away from countries like Libya.

On the issue of migrant relocation, draft proposals leaked before the summit had suggested that member states provide resettlement to 5,000 migrants, but no number was given in the concluding statement.

To discuss the issue further, EU and African Union officials have decided to gather soon in Malta, which like Italy and Greece is one of the countries worst affected by migrant arrivals.

 

 

 

EUROPEAN UNION

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.

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