Migration was not meant to be discussed at the European Political Community summit on Thursday, but just like it does at the EU level, it quickly found its way high up on the agenda.
Leaders from Albania, Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands and the European Commission chief took part in a migration meeting held on the sidelines of the EPC summit in Granada, Spain, where discussions on multilateralism, climate and digital challenges were meant to dominate the agenda.
They elaborated an eight-point document that they will work on over the coming months with the aim of finalising some sort of agreement during the next EPC summit scheduled to be held in the UK in the spring.
Outreach will be made to other EPC countries to build a coalition of the willing, French President Emmanuel Macron said.
"I consider that the EPC is precisely a relevant space to fight against migration. Firstly because there are several countries of origin among the Western Balkans and cooperation makes it possible to significantly reduce irregular immigration."
"We want to have a much more coordinated approach with countries of origin and countries of transit. This is the condition for being effective because we clearly see that we have policies that are desynchronized or divergent" weakening efforts to tackle the issue, he added.
The eight points include pledges to "take robust action" to "tackle migrant smuggling along the routes and at external borders" in cooperation with partner countries through joint action.
They also said they would provide support to partner countries through the deployment of personnel, equipment, and other material to strengthen border protection but also financially to boost assisted voluntary return and reintegration.
The document also includes a plan to update the legal framework to harmonise criminal offences for people smuggling, to strengthen cooperation on visa policy as well as on return and readmission "through a network of liaison officers in partner countries, sharing of expertise, diplomatic outreach and return operations."
The discussion on Thursday came just a day after EU member states finalised their position on new common rules to manage an unexpected mass arrival of asylum seekers. The so-called Crisis Regulation was the last remaining piece of the puzzle that is the New Pact on Asylum and Migration that the co-legislators - member states and Parliament - hope to negotiate and adopt before the end of this Commission's mandate.
The difficulties in reaching consensus among member states in recent years have meanwhile led the Commission to focus more on the external dimension and to strike deals with third countries in a bid to stem the flow of irregular arrivals.
The latest, with Tunisia, saw the EU pledge to disburse €105 million to Tunisia to combat anti-smuggling operations, reinforce border management and speed up the return of asylum seekers whose applications are denied. The deal was however condemned by members of the European Parliament and humanitarian organisations over concerns about the alleged abuse of sub-Saharan migrants by Tunisian authorities.
Italy's Giorgia Meloni, whose country had delayed the adoption of the Crisis Regulation text over language about search-and-rescue services provided by NGO Vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, told reporters upon arrival at the summit in Granada that the "EU's aims on migration are evolving toward a more pragmatic stance, based on legality, to fight irregular migration and manage legal migrations".
"On the external dimension the EU has to act fast," she added.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić did not take part in the multilateral discussion on migration on Thursday but welcomed it nonetheless.
"I believe this is the best place because you can discuss all the issues with the people that are involved with this difficult issue," he told Euronews.
"We needed a bit more with North African countries to be present as well but bearing in mind the place where we are, I believe that we had some good discussions on immigration issues and we are really ready to do whatever we are asked from our European partners on migration issues," he added.
Fourty-five leaders from across Europe attended the EPC summit with two notable absences: Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Russia's war against Ukraine and the EU's enlargement policy also featured high on the agenda.
The article was updated to include details on the eight-point document.