Malta hosts first Europe-Arab summit in a decade
VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Ten European and North African leaders met in Malta on Friday for the first such summit of Mediterranean neighbors in a decade, with the agenda focused on fighting terrorism and lawlessness, and strengthening political and economic cooperation in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
French President Francois Hollande is also likely to seek support for his call to the U.N. Security Council to endorse a West African-led military intervention in northern Mali, where al-Qaeda-linked Islamists are in control.
In an address to the U.N. General Assembly last week, Hollande said Mali needs assistance to seize back territory in the north of the country captured by Islamist rebels after a coup created a power vacuum in March.
The tense situation in the Middle East, which directly affects the Mediterranean region, as well as the continued migration from North Africa into southern Europe, also are on the agenda.
Addressing journalists this week, Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who is hosting the event in the 16th-century Verdala Palace, said: "There is much work to be done in laying the foundations for a new Mediterranean partnership."
Gonzi opened the summit stressing the lon-term interests of the democratization process in the Arab world.
The so-called 5 + 5 organization includes five European and five African nations.
Apart from Hollande and Gonzi, Europe will be represented by Italian Premier Mario Monti, Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Coelho and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Attending the meeting from Africa are Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, Libyan Congress President Mohamed El-Magarief, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, and Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the secretary general of the Arab Maghreb Union, Habib Ben Yahia, will be among the observers.
Portugal and Mauritania do not border the Mediterranean, but they form part of the organization through their strong political and cultural links with the region. The 5+5 was initially a 4+5 group when it was formed on France's initiative in the late 1980s until Malta joined in 1991. The first and only summit so far was held in Tunisia in 2003, although several ministerial-level meetings have been held since then.
This summit was originally scheduled for 2011, but was postponed because of the dramatic political changes in North Africa.
On the sidelines of the summit, the leaders of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal will hold a meeting Friday afternoon that will be dominated by economic issues related to Europe's debt crisis. They are expected to touch base on the June summit agreements on the stabilization of the situation in the eurozone.