EU thinks again on Mediterranean operations

April 23, 2015

Amnesty International volunteers place hundreds of ships with the writing "SOS Europe" on the beach of San Sebastian in Barcelona

EU leaders will hold an emergency summit in Brussels in response to a grimly increasing death toll among migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from north Africa in search of a better life.

The European Union is likely to double the amount of money and equipment for Mediterranean search and rescue operations after as many as 900 people were killed last weekend in the deadliest known shipwreck of migrants trying to reach Europe.

The area of operations will also be extended so EU ships can more easily spot boats in trouble. The leaders will discuss a 10-point plan drawn up by the European Commission, including a proposal for a military and civilian mission to capture and destroy traffickers’ boats.

Until now, some EU governments have been reluctant to fund rescue operations in the Mediterranean for fear of encouraging more people to make the crossing. The previous search and rescue operation “Mare Nostrum” was cancelled last year. Many European politicians have now acknowledged that the decision not to replace it was a mistake.

One acid test will be the collective will to tackle the problem at source in unstable Libya. There has been a mixed response to an idea pushed by Italy of setting up refugee centres in north African countries as a way to handle the thousands trying to reach Europe.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will hold talks with Germany’s Angela Merkel on the sidelines of the summit though the prospects of a reform-for-cash deal when euro zone finance ministers meet in Riga on Friday appear to have evaporated.

There is a little time left yet but with no sign of Athens producing an economic reform programme for its creditors to review, the two sides are also miles apart.
Euro zone and Greek officials said the government could scrape together enough cash to meet its payment obligations into June, playing down fears of an imminent default.

European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said he did not expect an agreement in technical talks with Greece in April, saying debt negotiations could last until next month and thus beyond an April 30 deadline for a deal.

With the European Central Bank’s money-printing scheme now in full swing, the euro weak and food and energy cheap, prospects for the euro zone are starting to look up. April flash PMI surveys for the bloc and its biggest two economies – Germany and France – will give a first glimpse as to how the second quarter has begun.

China’s factory activity contracted at its fastest pace in a year in April, its PMI showed, suggesting economic conditions are still deteriorating despite increasingly aggressive policy easing by the central bank.

A GfK consumer sentiment survey, just out showed, German consumer morale edged higher heading into May, helped by expectations that incomes will rise, though ongoing uncertainty over Greece dampened willingness to spend slightly.

Yesterday, the German government raised its economic growth forecasts for 2015 and 2016 to 1.8 percent from a previous forecast of 1.5 percent this year and 1.6 next.

The German finance ministry said overnight that growth probably slowed in the first quarter of this year compared with the 0.7 percent expansion posed in the final three months of 2014.

Egyptian’s central bank meets today. Having cut interest rates in January and held in February, it will be reluctant to ease until price pressures dissipate and is expected to sit on its hands. Inflation hit a five-month high in March.

Saudi-led coalition warplanes bombed Yemen on Wednesday despite an announcement by Riyadh that it was ending its campaign of air strikes, while renewed fighting erupted on the ground between rebels and forces loyal to the exiled president.

The hostilities illustrated how difficult it will be to find a political solution to a war stirring animosities between rival Gulf powers Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Nigerian forces backed by warplanes invaded Islamist group Boko Haram’s last known stronghold in an effort to finally defeat their six-year-old insurgency.

Armies from Nigeria and neighbours Chad, Niger and Cameroon have in the past two months launched a concerted push to try to crush the insurgents, who have killed thousands and kidnapped hundreds in their battle to establish an Islamic state.

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