Hollande, Tsipras, Mogherini et al: European lefties sit down for cozy chit-chat at Elysee

French President Francois Hollande chaired a first of its kind informal meeting of European Social Democrat leaders, drawing his guests’ attention to issues that seem to have been forgotten due to the EU’s current headache – the refugee crisis.

President Hollande’s Saturday morning seems to have gone pleasantly, with nice sunny weather complimenting a surprising brunch that he put together with Europe’s prominent left-wingers. Among those in attendance were EU Parliament president Martin Schulz and Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, the Prime Ministers of Italy, Greece, and Malta, as well as representatives from Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands.

French President Francois Hollande welcomes European Parliament President Martin Schulz to a gathering of European Social Democrat leaders at the Elysee palace in Paris, France, March 12, 2016. © Philippe Wojazer

The group’s aim was to discuss ways of strengthening Europe’s stance on migration, but also on the menu were issues that have lately been pushed lower on Europe’s agenda because of the refugee crisis, like that of economic reforms, rising far right sentiment, and youth unemployment.

The meeting passed in what seemed like a light-hearted manner, given the number and content of the tweets almost everyone present posted on their feeds.

Greece’s Alexis Tsipras, who was granted observer status at the meeting, tweeted the most extensively, writing: “Today’s meeting contributes to forming a progressive alliance against austerity” and “Europe is faced today with the coinciding plagues of austerity and refugee crises. It needs a change of course.” Speaking with journalists afterwards, Tsipras said that the meeting had proved fruitful and the delegates had made progress as a “common front” dedicated to tackling the ever-deepening migrant crisis.

French President Francois Hollande welcomes Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at a gathering of European Social Democrat leaders at the Elysee palace in Paris, France, March 12, 2016. © Philippe Wojazer

Francois Hollande in his turn cited border control as a solution to the issue:

“If there is protection of external borders, we will avoid the re-establishment of internal borders, national borders, which have actually been re-established by certain countries, unilaterally. We will avoid [what is happening] in Greece, when thousands of refugees are held at the border between Macedonia and Greece, in unbearable conditions for the people and for Greece, too. And we will avoid people risking their lives by crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece.”

The meeting comes just as Europe is tightening access to asylum-seekers and other migrants, with a complex summit in Brussels set to be held next week to finalize a plan to send migrants back to Turkey. Addressing the delegates, Hollande urged for more “clarification and transparency” in EU discussions on the much debated plan.

The French leader also spoke about the possibility of the UK leaving the EU, as the country is set to vote on whether to remain in the bloc in June. He warned that the European Union has to prepare for the consequences of such proposals: “There will surely be initiatives to take after the British referendum, whatever the decision is, even though we wish Britain stays in the European Union.”

Hollande urged Europe to “take its responsibility” in dealing with world crises, and do so without waiting for a new president to be elected in US later this year, putting Social Democrats at the forefront of the force that he hopes will drive Europe to its future: “Social Democrats must respond to emergencies... and prepare Europe’s future.”

Tsipras commented on the task lying before the left-wingers, stating that “progressive forces have to promote the need to return to the fundamental values of Europe, which are solidarity, democracy, social cohesion, but also to build a wall against economic policies that prepare the ground for the far-right that today threatens the future of Europe.”

The Social Democrat leaders are to meet next in Rome after the British referendum, according to Italian PM Matteo Renzi.