EU: New migrant plan approved after France-Italy spat
European interior ministers welcome an EU plan to improve the coordination of migrant arrivals, as thousands remain stranded.
After a heated row between Italy and France over a refugee rescue boat, European interior ministers welcomed an EU plan to better coordinate the handling of migrant arrivals on Friday.
France has accused Italy of violating international law by turning away an NGO vessel, triggering crisis talks in Brussels to avoid a new EU row over the politically charged issue.
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The meeting was described as productive by all parties, but Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, stated afterward that they had agreed that "more can and must be done" to find a long-term solution.
The ministers will gather again at a pre-planned December 8 meeting to pursue the "difficult discussion", he said.
Margaritis Schinas, the European Commission Vice-President in charge of "promoting our European way of life," stated that Europe could no longer accept another ad hoc solution. "We cannot continue working event-by-event, ship-by-ship, incident-by-incident, route-by-route," he said, recalling that previous crises had been seized upon by "populistic and europhobe forces."
Although the number of asylum seekers is still far lower than in 2015 and 2016, the dispute has already undermined a stopgap agreement to redistribute arrivals more evenly across the 27-nation bloc.
No more 'ad hoc' plans
For years, Brussels has been struggling to agree on and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers, but the row has brought the issue to the fore.
Italy's new government under the far-right leader, Georgia Meloni, refused to allow earlier this month a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship with 234 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean to dock.
The Ocean Viking eventually arrived in France, where authorities reacted angrily to Rome's stance, canceling an earlier agreement to accept 3,500 asylum seekers stranded in Italy.
The row jeopardized the EU's stopgap interim solution, prompting Paris to convene an extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states on Friday. "The Ocean Viking crisis was a bit of improvisation," Schinas admitted, defending the new plan from his commission to better coordinate rescues and migrant and refugee arrivals.
"We have twenty specific actions, we have an important political agreement, everyone is committed to working so as not to reproduce this kind of situation."
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French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin stated that France has no reason to accept migrants relocated from Italy if Rome "does not accept the law of the sea."
In addition, Darmanin's Italian opposite number Matteo Piantedosi played down the Ocean Viking incident, saying the meeting was "not dealing with individual cases or operational management." He stated that he had shaken hands with the French Minister and that there was a "convergence of positions" that would allow the ministers to resume discussions at their meeting on December 8.
As the 25th of September election nears in #Italy, the far-right is focusing its campaign on immigrants.— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) September 22, 2022
Will Italy submit to the far-right with its neo-fascist roots? pic.twitter.com/eZuMXx7Gxn
The previous plan was developed in response to complaints from Mediterranean countries closer to North African shores, such as Italy and Greece, that they were bearing too much responsibility for migrants.
A dozen EU members agreed to take in 8,000 asylum seekers, with France and Germany each accepting 3,500, but only 117 have been relocated.
While France and Italy debate high-profile cases of dramatic sea rescues in the central Mediterranean, other EU capitals are concerned about land routes through the Balkans. According to the EU border force Frontex, nearly 130,000 undocumented migrants have entered the EU since the beginning of the year, a 160% increase.