The European Union (EU) has announced that it will launch a “civil and military” offensive in the Mediterranean Sea to “systematically capture and destroy” vessels used by people smugglers.
Part of a 10-point plan jointly announced by European Commission vice-president Federica Mogherini and European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, it was the result of an emergency meeting of all EU member states on 20 April in reaction to a mass drowning incident off the coast of Libya on Sunday where more than 700 people are believed to have drowned.
The EU has a “new sense of urgency and political will to tackle” the collection of issues driving the crisis in the region, said Mogherini, with Avramopoulos stating that today the EU had issued a “message of will, resolve, unity and solidarity”.
The EU’s united front will draw on the lessons of successful counter-piracy operations in the western Indian Ocean. Avramopoulos said the action against smugglers’ boats will be an ‘Operation Atalanta’-style operation.
“The positive results obtained [against pirates] by Operation ‘Atalanta’ should inspire us for new operations against smugglers in the Mediterranean,” he said.
The planned operations ‘Triton’ and ‘Poseidon’ will be reinforced with increased funding and assets, and an extended operational area, “allowing us to intervene further, with the mandate of Frontex”, said Avramopoulos.
In another nod to the organisational methods that have underpinned successful action against piracy, Europe will also establish regular meetings between key EU bodies: EUROPOL, Frontex, EASO (asylum system implementation) and EUROJUST (facilitating judicial co-operation in cross-border cases), which will work together to obtain information on smugglers’ modus operandi, to trace their funds, and to assist in their investigation.
Addressing the question of why the EU has taken action only now, Mogherini said: “Personally, I have asked the same question” , and admitted to a “sense of frustration”.
But she pointed out that getting migration onto the EU agenda had taken 10 years, and compared the EU with a “big, powerful, complex machine” that “needs some time to move”.
She observed that it is often the case that only when a major tragedy occurs does an issue rise in the political agenda requiring action.
“Working daily, drop by drop, produces results in the long run. Shocks, as dramatic as they are, accelerate the processes. I hope this [process] is irreversible,” she said.