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Migrants in the Mediterranean/extraordinary European Council meeting

Published on April 27, 2015
Press conference given by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic (excerpts)

Brussels, April 23, 2015


THE PRESIDENT – I asked for a European Council meeting to be held as soon as possible after the tragedy that occurred on Sunday.

Matteo Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister, had also insisted that this Council meeting take place today, and I thank Donald Tusk for preparing this meeting with the European Commission so that decisions could be taken and Europe could measure up in the face of the tragedy.

Europe can’t be responsible for everything. But it must nevertheless be capable of providing responses to everything, including what’s most despicable, namely the transportation, by boats which we know won’t reach their destination, of people who we know will die or may die.

So the European Council firstly wanted to show that it was capable of tripling the capabilities Europe has hitherto deployed in the Mediterranean through Operations Triton and Poseidon and in the framework of Frontex. Tripling means going even beyond what existed in an operation called Mare Nostrum, which aimed to save human lives and, at the same time, ensure border controls.

France must itself play its part, and even more than its part, because it’s a matter of its honour and duty. That’s why I announced at the European Council that we’re going to double the number of experts made available to these operations, and also put a patrol ship at the service of Frontex – and therefore of the operation – as well as a towboat at sea. Other countries also made commitments, which will mean we can deploy maritime units and also air units. France will also make surveillance planes available to the operation.

What’s the goal? As I’ve said, a humanitarian goal: to prevent boats being wrecked or capsizing and therefore to save human lives. And at the same time, to deter trafficking as far as possible and ensure there can be controls so that the traffickers aren’t encouraged to engage in their trade – especially as that trade most often funds terrorism.


So a second decision was taken, and it will be for Ms Mogherini to implement it in the framework of international law. It will be to present every option so that the boats, the vessels used by the traffickers can be destroyed, seized, so that the trafficking can’t itself be encouraged by the sea rescue operations.

This must be within the framework of international law. What does international law mean? I’ll come back to the Libyan government’s request; everyone knows what the situation is in Libya. So it can be done only in the framework of a resolution by the Security Council, to which it must be referred. France, a permanent member of the Security Council, will take the initiative with others, because the United Kingdom also shares this determination. If the Security Council gives authorization, the operations will then be able to go ahead.


Third decision: to help the countries which are facing migration flows, and I’m thinking of Italy, Greece and Malta. Those countries must be able to take in [migrants] but at the same time distinguish between those with the right to asylum – which means registering those who may have that right – and also turn back illegal immigration. What does that mean? It means that if the people taken in don’t enjoy the right to asylum, they’ll have to be escorted back, and this will be in the framework of Operation Frontex. Resources must be made available to ensure that this illegal immigration can, by definition, be handled with humanity and dignity and, at the same time, with the firmness necessary to ensure that migration flows can’t increase. So the system will involve registering those enjoying the right to asylum and escorting back people who can’t fit into that framework.

A new decision was expected, and I was calling for it – I suggested it along with others –, namely for us to be able to help the African countries control their borders, because we must act on the very cause of the phenomenon we’re condemning, namely migration. Now, most of the people on these makeshift boats of misfortune are migrants who are seeking their economic salvation first of all and who are not necessarily being persecuted in their countries.

So we must help African countries control their borders and also have development projects. This will be the focus of a meeting between Europe and Africa – to be held no doubt in the coming weeks, by the summer, in Malta – which will enable us to act together to ensure there’s a long-term policy but also an emergency policy on what we’re seeing today. Development projects, cooperation and border control.


Meanwhile, we’ll also be having discussions with Turkey. Again, this relates to what we’re seeing in terms of the movement of refugees from Syria and Iraq. We’ve started talking, particularly about what we know of the refugees but also about the monitoring of foreign fighters. (…)

Finally, there are the deep-rooted causes of the scourge. I come back to two countries.


The first is Libya, not because Libyans are coming to Europe, but because Libya today has no state system. Unfortunately, after the intervention which took place in 2011, the state wasn’t rebuilt. Today there are factions, splinter groups, divisions, there are even two governments, two parliaments. So there’s a need to support, increase, speed up everything which has to be done to reach a political agreement, so that once again there’s one government, one state and the resources to take action.

Because if there’s nothing in Libya, what happens? Those seeking to migrate go to Libya to leave [from there] and then look for boats to take them to Europe, and that’s where the traffickers get involved. It’s a matter of particular urgency because in Libya, Daesh [ISIL] – the terrorist group already rife in Syria and Iraq, has moved in and is committing atrocities – the latest being the murder of Ethiopian Christians, but it also commits acts aimed at destabilizing what is still a state under construction.

If nothing is done, the worst that could happen would be a terrorist state one day being set up in Libya. At that point, there wouldn’t be just boats coming from Libya to Europe, unfortunately there would be terrorists. So taking action is a matter of urgency. It isn’t just Europe that can do this, it’s the whole international community, particularly the countries which, at some point, have shouldered their responsibilities.


The second country is Eritrea, a country which isn’t well known, where sadly a population is fleeing, and we must exert genuine pressure and take the initiative with the representatives, the Eritrean authorities. We can’t allow a country to have its people draining out of it and have migration movements which both weaken that country’s resources and undermine the whole region and, beyond that, have migration-related repercussions.


On all these issues, the European Council has provided initial responses. There’ll be others, there’ll be other steps – for example, as regards taking in refugees and how this duty must be shared. When these are people with the right of asylum, we can’t envisage the same countries always being called upon, while others in Europe escape this solidarity. So the European Commission will have to make proposals so that each country can make a contribution to ensure this duty of solidarity – I’m thinking of the Syrian refugees in particular.


Q. – Two days ago, you said the Council meeting couldn’t be an ordinary Council meeting taking ordinary decisions. When you compare the scale of the decisions taken today to the scale of the tragedy in question, are you disappointed? If you’re not, how extraordinary are the decisions taken today?

THE PRESIDENT – To triple the resources used hitherto is out of the ordinary in itself.
To be capable of defining and above all implementing a migration policy – i.e. to be capable, in the countries facing up to this, of registering and taking in [migrants] and organizing escorts back, yes, that’s no longer extraordinary because it’s the migration policy that must now be implemented by Europe. (…)

Not only Europe but the whole international community will also have to shoulder their responsibilities. In other words, there will have to be action on the causes. I’ve mentioned them: what’s happening in Libya and what may exist in Africa. (…) So we also have to help the African countries coordinate their efforts. France has been shouldering its responsibilities for a long time, at the security level, at the humanitarian level, but also at the economic level.

That’s why I insisted – it’s an important decision – that there should also be this summit between Europe and Africa. It’s an extraordinary summit so that there can be not only emergency decisions but also long-term decisions. I’m all the more interested in the organization of this summit because there’s the Climate Conference and we must also ensure Africa’s solidarity with what we may agree in Paris. Actions on the climate are not without consequences on migration, either. By acting on the climate, we can also act on immigration.


Q. – Can you say exactly what the resources you’re all going to devote to Frontex will be used for? I have a second question. You tell us that Frontex will be able to escort back all those migrants who don’t have political asylum. Does this mean that all the migrants who come from countries at war will be authorized to remain in Europe?

THE PRESIDENT – In the framework of what’s called Frontex, there’s Operation Triton for the Italian and Maltese coasts and Operation Poseidon for the Greek coast. In that framework, vessels and planes are being put to work saving lives, but they’re also there to deter the departure from Libya of boats, vessels, which mustn’t approach and be turned back. (…)

There are people who come from Nigeria, not necessarily areas at war, who are not under threat but who want to come as far as Europe. So work will necessarily be done to register those who may have the right to asylum – it will later be seen if they can obtain it – and identify those who, from the outset, are part of illegal immigration and must therefore be escorted back.

Q. – As long as there’s free movement of goods, why can’t human beings travel? Why not quite simply legalize migration? Do you envisage intervening militarily in Libya?

THE PRESIDENT – (…) For our country, France, immigration has been of value over the past decades. What makes France what it is today is the fact that there have been those successive waves of immigration. (…)

But precisely in order for us to be able to live together, we need to control migration. There’s what comes under asylum, which has always been a right, whatever the period and whatever the economic situation. When a person risks their life, and even if there are difficulties, our country has a duty to take them in. That’s not only part of our tradition, of our culture, but of each nation’s duty towards those whose lives are threatened.

And there’s always been control of immigration, too, and it must be done Europe-wide. That’s why there’s a European policy on our common borders. And that policy must be created and conducted in solidarity: in other words, all European countries must have rules, the same rules. That’s why, for entry onto European territory, a distinction must be made precisely between what comes under asylum and what comes under migration when it’s not authorized. (…)


On Libya, everything must be done first of all to seek a political agreement between the parties involved. (…) The international community must exert much stronger pressure, and the matter must be referred to the Security Council.

But it must also deal with the traffickers, often linked to terrorist groups, who have organized themselves and are leading whole families to their deaths. (…)


Q. – You’ve just explained that it shouldn’t always be the same countries that take in and receive the refugees. Does this mean France is in favour of revising at European level the Dublin II Regulation? (…)

THE PRESIDENT – There’s the prospect of sharing, and not simply by countries which decide from a purely voluntary point of view. The principle is that of voluntary participation, but solidarity must also be the rule. So, precisely, we’re going to work on the next stages.

Q. – The Italian public is wondering why you need 900 deaths to take action. How do you justify this delay?

THE PRESIDENT – Since the beginning of the year, there’s been a significant increase in the number of victims. In the past few days alone, 1,100 deaths have been certified. This isn’t the first time; you mentioned what’s already happened in Lampedusa (…) and we can’t let Italy deal with this situation alone. I stand foursquare behind Matteo Renzi; we’ve got to help Italy take in [migrants] and then (…) those coming under asylum must be shared and those coming under illegal immigration must be taken back. (…)

So we’ve got to act on the economic causes of what’s happening in a number of countries, to provide those countries with the necessary support for their development and their border control, and we must bring pressure to bear on the traffickers. This is the thrust of the European Council’s decisions. (…)


Q. – A question on the maritime operation for which the High Representative has been given a mandate. I want to know when you consider or think that it could be up and running, if it’s going, for example, to enter Libyan territorial waters or not and how you’re going to persuade certain partners at the UN Security Council, especially Russia. The Russian representatives, if I remember correctly, have always said they’d give their agreement to international action only when an investigation into the NATO intervention in Libya has taken place. (…)

THE PRESIDENT – Firstly, this isn’t a question of carrying out another intervention. Secondly, there can be a European operation – in the sense of destroying a number of boats and ships, or putting them out of use – only in the framework of international law, i.e. in the framework of a Security Council resolution.

You’re right to say that all the members of the Security Council need persuading, and especially the permanent members. I’m leaving tonight for Armenia; I’ll be meeting President Putin on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. We’ll be discussing many subjects, you know what they are, and I’ll be talking to him about what Europe intends to propose in the framework of a possible Security Council resolution.

I believe he may understand that this isn’t about repeating an intervention, but ensuring that the traffickers can’t lead a number of people to their deaths who are far away from Libya and aren’t directly involved, moreover, in the Libya conflict since they’re economic immigrants or refugees.

So we need this resolution. To be very clear, once the Security Council is able to pass this resolution – it should take a relatively short time – Ms Mogherini will have to prepare this operation and of course present it, inasmuch as it’s possible, in contact with what remains of the Libyan authorities. (…)