The Guardian: Migration is threat to EU free travel area, says Italian prime minister25 June 2018 | 03:24 | FOCUS News Agency
Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, was speaking at a mini-EU summit in Brussels, where he said a plan from his government presented at the summit represented a paradigm shift in dealing with migration. But his ambitious move to change what he called obsolete EU rules that govern who is responsible for asylum claimants is likely to encounter opposition from other countries.
The 10-point plan by his new populist government revives many ideas proposed by previous Italian governments, such as calling on all EU member states to share responsibility for migrants rescued at sea, and countries being docked EU funds if they refuse to take in refugees.
Leaders from 16 EU countries put on a show of unity, as they left an emergency summit in Brussels on Sunday. The unorthodox meeting, boycotted by several EU countries, was called to shore up the conservative coalition government of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, which is riven by a row over migration.
Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said the talks had been “frank and open,” although they had not resulted in “any concrete consequences or conclusions”.
Sunday’s ad-hoc meeting sets the stage for a long-planned gathering of all EU leaders on Thursday, where it will be harder to mask Europe’s deep divisions on migration. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, can be expected to repeat his fierce opposition to migrant quotas, a policy opposed by other central European countries.
The latest meeting was not only a lifeline for Merkel, but an attempt to save the EU’s 26-country border-free travel zone, seen as one of the EU’s crowning achievements.
Before the meeting had even begun, divisions were on display, as Italy and Malta traded insults over which nation was responsible for a boat of 234 migrants adrift in international waters. In a stark reminder of the issues at stake, the NGO rescue mission Lifeline was refused permission to dock at Italy, while Malta sent it back to Italian waters. Ministers from Malta and Italy argued on Twitter over which country was acting in a humane way towards the ship. Meanwhile, a Danish ship, the Alexander Maersk, was waiting off Sicily’s coast for a port to disembark more than 100 people it had rescued.
Arriving at the summit, Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, sought to defuse the row, saying it was not a time for finger-pointing as he advised against “building a wall even on the high seas”. Urging fellow leaders to take operational decisions, he said later: “There are people at sea right now. We are in a situation where we don’t take decisions in the coming days the situation will escalate.”
The situation echoes the plight of the Aquarius, a rescue boat of 630 migrants that eventually docked in Spain last week, after being turned away by Italy.
Diplomats from France, Spain, Italy and Malta held intense talks about each country taking in people from Lifeline. Meanwhile Sánchez, called on “comrades” in other member states to help Spain, following a recent spike in arrivals.
In its 10-point plan, Rome is seeking to break the link between the country that rescues migrants and the country obliged to process asylum claims. Under current rules, an EU country is responsible for processing the asylum claims of all new arrivals, which has put enormous pressure on Mediterranean states, especially Italy and Greece.
The Italian plan called on every EU country to set a quota for economic migrants and said migrant centres were needed in other countries.
Italy also backs the idea of offshore migrant camps in north Africa to process asylum claims of people rescued at sea. Although the idea remains sketchy and no African countries have agreed to host the centres, the idea generates far more consensus among EU leaders than how to manage people once they reach Europe.
Merkel played down expectations for a breakthrough at Thursday’s summit, adding that countries have to see “how can we help each other without always having to wait for all 28, but by thinking what’s important to whom”.
Instead of difficult overall deals among all member states, she said it was “also about bi- and trilateral agreements for mutual benefit”.
Germany’s hardline interior minister, Horst Seehofer, has threatened to turn migrants away at the border, unless there is an EU-wide agreement by early July to better control secondary movements.
Many believe that if Germany closes its border in a bid to stop the arrival of migrants from Italy, other countries would soon follow, leading to the collapse of the open-border Schengen zone.
“If we don’t have a genuine solution on the migration issue, then Schengen is dead,” said a diplomatic source, who added: “I honestly think that this meeting is not the best way to tackle the divisions.”
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, said there was a political crisis over migration and urged Europe to defend values of human rights. “Every time we have betrayed our values we have created the worst,” he said.
Echoing Merkel, he also raised the prospect of some member states acting alone, if it proved impossible to find agreement between all 28. “It can be cooperation between the 28 or cooperation between some states who decide between themselves.”
Reviving the core Europe idea is likely to prove controversial, especially with four central European countries that were not attending Sunday’s mini-summit.
The original guest list was limited to eight countries, but the European commission later issued an open invitation, although 12 countries chose to stay away.
But the symbolism of holding an EU summit in Brussels without all EU member states struck some observers as a bad idea. The European council president, Donald Tusk, refused to host the meeting, because he wants the EU to act as one bloc, leaving European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to step in reluctantly as organiser.
Arrival figures for refugees and migrants are currently 51% down on last year and 81% down on 2016.
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