European and North African leaders held their first summit since the Arab Spring revolts on Friday in Malta, where France, Italy, Portugal and Spain will also hold talks on the euro debt crisis.
Arab Maghreb states are expected to request more economic support and investment from the other side of the Mediterranean and European leaders will inevitably raise the need to restrict the flow of undocumented migrants.
Security talks are also scheduled, following a wave of anti-Western protests across the Muslim world over a video offensive to Islam shot in the United States and satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in France.
This is only the second meeting at the heads of state and government level after one in Tunis in 2003 of a diplomatic forum known as “Five-Plus-Five”.
It brings together five European countries (France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain) and five Maghreb states (Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia).
French President Francois Hollande, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Monti, Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Portugal’s Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho are all in Malta for the summit and will hold a separate meeting.
Hollande’s office said their talks would “see where things stand in the eurozone crisis” ahead of the next European summit on October 18-19.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will also be at the summit along with the commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy Stefan Fule.
The head of the Arab Maghreb Union, Habib Ben Yahia, and the head of the Union for the Mediterranean, Fathallah Sijilmassi, will be observers.
The summit is expected to adopt a declaration later on Friday and there will be a press conference by some of the summit leaders at 1030 GMT on Saturday.
Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said earlier that it would be “a historic meeting in itself, a showcase for intercultural dialogue.”
The “Five-Plus-Five” forum was launched in Rome in 1990.
It will be the first summit since Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in January last year and Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi was toppled in August last year, then captured and killed two months later.
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and Libyan President Mohamed al-Megaryef, both voted in with democratic elections, are among the Arab leaders attending.
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh have also been ousted, but their countries lie outside the Maghreb region.
A Maltese official told AFP earlier that the informal nature of the forum “permits a more frank discussion” of themes expected to include security issues and new areas of cooperation like education, environment and energy.
The summit will allow the West to show its determination “to maintain an ambitious Mediterranean cooperation in spite of economic difficulties and the eurozone crisis,” a spokesman from the French president’s office said earlier.
Paris also wants to declare “its renewed confidence in the political process on the south bank of the Mediterranean and Maghreb in particular following the Arab Spring”, and “create productive, confident and varied ties” in the region.
In addition to the summit, Paris said it hoped the Five-Plus-Five countries could “strengthen cooperation between finance and economy ministers, facilitate movement for businessmen and reinforce legal security for companies.”