Photo: MARCOS MORENO;Marcos Moreno / AFP / Getty Images
SALZBURG, Austria — European Union leaders agreed Thursday to enter talks with Egypt to help stem the flow of migrants entering Europe from Africa, offering to step up economic cooperation and the prospect of a high-profile summit in Cairo as incentives.
Speaking to reporters after hosting talks between EU leaders in Salzburg, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said “we’ve agreed on in-depth cooperation on issues such as migration, but also economic cooperation with Egypt.”
“We’ve got to ensure that as few people as possible leave northern African countries for Europe. If they do, the situation should be dealt with as close to the African coast as possible,” Kurz said.
Kurz, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, and EU Council President Donald Tusk visited Cairo over the weekend for talks with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a top army general who took office in 2014. Both men have praised him for stopping people from leaving its coast bound for Europe.
“Egypt is efficient. Egypt has served as an example when it comes to illegal migration and people smuggling,” Kurtz added.
Tusk said he will meet with Sissi this weekend to take the talks forward, and confirmed that the leaders had agreed to take part in an EU-Arab League summit in Cairo in February. Migration talks with other north African countries will also be launched.
To cope with the migrant crisis, the EU has in the past few years been willing to part with billions to secure deals around the Mediterranean with leaders with autocratic leanings.
The bloc lauds a deal it struck with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for slowing migrant arrivals to a trickle over the past two years, in exchange for up to $7 billion in aid for Syrian refugees there.
Italy alone paid billions to former Libyan dictator Muammar Khadafy to stop African people from leaving his country’s shores. Thousands were transported from Libya’s coast to its southern border.
Beyond keeping tight control over Egypt’s coastline, Sissi could have important influence with the military and militias in lawless, neighboring Libya, a main departure point for migrants trying to enter Europe through Italy.
The decision to work with Egypt comes after Italy’s anti-migrant government drew headlines for closing its ports to NGO ships, and even its own coast guard, carrying people rescued at sea. Hundreds of migrants spent unnecessary days at sea or aboard boats while EU countries bickered over who should take them.
Lorne Cook is an Associated Press writer.