The European Union’s Foreign Ministers and the High Representative Josep Borrell reconvened via video teleconference to discuss the latest developments on the impact of COVID-19 and the strengthening of cooperation and solidarity in the member states’ common fight against this pandemic.
The ministers exchanged views on the ongoing repatriation efforts, which have resulted in the return of three-hundred and fifty thousand (350,000) persons thus far, with an estimated two hundred and fifty thousand (250,000) EU citizens still stranded abroad.
While calling for increased cooperation to facilitate intra-EU transit of persons, the Council underlined that several member states received financial support to carry out more than two hundred (200) chartered repatriation flights, in a clear example of European solidarity in practice.
In this regard, the ministers stressed the need for increased public awareness on the ongoing efforts at the European level through an evidence-based strategic narrative. On his part, Minister Bartolo held that the best communication strategy would result from a strong showing of solidarity between member states on the ground, and not the narrow interest being portrayed in the supply of medical devices within the EU.
Minister Evarist Bartolo also spoke on the need to accelerate the process of the Joint Protection Mechanism, so as to ensure that the much-needed medical equipment is made available to health services as soon as possible.
During the VTC, the ministers highlighted the importance of sustained international cooperation to overcome this global challenge, particularly through closer ties with our neighbouring African continent, where the spread of COVID-19 can have severe political, economic and social implications. In this context, Minister Bartolo reiterated Malta’s call for strong support to Libya, where persistent fighting is undermining the country’s ability to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, while also contributing to a higher risk of a spike in irregular migration.
On this subject, Minister Bartolo underscored the importance of an early deployment of the recently launched Operation IRINI, which aims to break the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks in the Mediterranean, while also implementing the UN Security Council’s resolutions.
In conclusion, the Minister appealed to all member states to ensure that NGO vessels which bear their flag and which are currently roaming the Mediterranean observe international law and are reminded of their responsibilities.