European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hold a news conference at the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)
EU and Arab leaders will meet in Egypt in late February for their first summit as part of efforts to forge a new European-African alliance and fight migrant smuggling, EU officials said Thursday.
European Union leaders first mentioned the summit in Austria last month as they vowed to intensify talks with Egypt and other north African countries to curb illegal migration.
"The European Council welcomes the holding of the forthcoming first summit between the 28 EU Member States and the League of Arab States, hosted by Egypt on 24-25 February 2019," the council of EU leaders said after a summit in Brussels.
The Cairo-based Arab League includes North African countries Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco as well as those in the Middle East and Gulf.
EU officials said the summit was part of a broader push to build closer ties with Africa outlined by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in September.
"It is now much more than about migration and fighting traffickers," an EU official told reporters.
Juncker urged the EU to strike a "new alliance" with Africa that would create millions of jobs and include a free trade deal.
The Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU, hopes the strategy will both showcase its international influence and help stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.
The EU also wants to boost development in sub-Saharan Africa to ease the poverty that often drives migration.
The EU has previously struck cooperation deals with both Turkey and Libya, whose coast guard officers are trained by the Europeans to stop migrant sea crossings.
The deals with the two gateway countries have helped to cut migration to Europe sharply since a 2015 peak, but the bloc wants to expand work with all north African countries.
The EU is increasingly focusing on less controversial plans to bolster its external borders, but sharp splits persist over redistributing asylum seekers who make it to Europe.