Home News EU ministers approve a new migration plan after the Franco-Italian dispute

EU ministers approve a new migration plan after the Franco-Italian dispute

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European interior ministers have welcomed an EU plan to better coordinate the arrival of migrants after a bitter row between Italy and France over the explosion of a refugee rescue boat.

France has accused Italy of disrespecting the law of the sea by rejecting the NGO’s ship, prompting crisis talks in Brussels to resolve a new European dispute over a politically tense issue.

All sides described Friday’s meeting as constructive, but Czech Interior Minister Vet Ragosan, whose country holds the EU presidency, said later it had been agreed that “more could and should be done” to find a lasting solution.

He said the ministers would meet again at a pre-scheduled meeting on December 8 to continue the “difficult discussions”.

European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas accused the commissioner of “promoting our European way of life” and said Europe could no longer accept another interim solution.

“We cannot continue to operate event by event, ship by ship, incident by incident, or road by course,” he said, noting that past crises have been taken over by “populist forces and forces of hate.”

The number of asylum seekers remains well below 2015 and 2016 levels, but the dispute has already undermined an initial deal to redistribute migrants more evenly around the 27-nation bloc.

More “custom” projects

Brussels has been fighting for years to adopt and implement a new responsibility-sharing policy for migrants and asylum seekers, but the harrowing dispute has brought the issue into the spotlight.

Earlier this month, the new Italian government led by far-right leader Giorgia Meloni refused to allow a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship to dock with 234 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

The Ocean Viking eventually made its way to France, where the authorities reacted angrily to Rome’s stance, ending an earlier deal to pick up 3,500 asylum-seekers stranded in Italy.

The row has undermined the EU’s temporary solution and prompted Paris to convene an extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states on Friday.

“The Ocean Viking crisis is a small step forward,” Commissioner Schinas acknowledged, defending her commission’s new plan to improve coordination of relief efforts and access for migrants and refugees.

We have 20 specific measures. We have an important political agreement. Everyone is committed to working to ensure that a situation like this does not happen again.

French Interior Minister Gerald Dormanin said that if Rome does not take the boats, France has no reason to accept migrants from Italy. [and] disobeying the law of the sea.”

Matteo Bentedosi, Tarman’s Italian counterpart, downplayed the Ocean Viking incident, saying the meeting “does not deal with individual cases or operational management”.

He said he shook hands with the French minister and said there was a “convergence of positions” for the ministers to resume talks at a December 8 meeting.

The previous plan was put in place after Mediterranean countries close to the coast of North Africa, such as Italy and Greece, complained of placing too much responsibility on immigrants.

Dozens of EU members have agreed to take in 8,000 asylum seekers – France and Germany have accepted 3,500 each – but so far 117 transfers have already taken place.

‘Nothing is new.’

On Monday, the European Commission unveiled another action plan to improve control of arrivals on the Central Mediterranean route in a bid to revamp the mechanism.

This was not well received by aid agencies. Stephanie Pope, Oxfam’s migration expert, called the Brussels plan “a new rehash of old ideas that don’t work”.

An EU diplomat said: “The joint action plan with member states is quite good, but there is nothing new, so it will not solve the migration problem.”

However, the ministers approved it and Schinas said it was necessary to prevent further crises as Europe once again tries to negotiate a comprehensive migration plan with the force of EU law.

Schinas also noted that international maritime law obliges EU member states to “do what is necessary to save lives” in their national search and rescue areas.

The project will see closer coordination between EU national authorities and humanitarian NGOs to rescue migrants in distress on overcrowded makeshift boats.

This will see Brussels work more closely with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to try to prevent illegal immigrants from boarding smuggling ships in the first place.

While France and Italy squabble over dramatic sea rescues in the central Mediterranean, other EU capitals are more concerned about land routes through the Balkans.

An estimated 130,000 undocumented migrants have arrived in the region since the start of the year, an increase of 160%, according to Frontex, the European Union’s border force.

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