Sunday

30th Apr 2017

Focus

Malta will try to 'please everyone' on migration

  • Carmelo Abela: "If all member states strictly stick to the national positions, it will be very difficult to have a compromise. We need to be more flexible in our positions." (Photo: Council of the EU)

Malta's priorities on home affairs, when it takes over the EU presidency in January, will be to move forward on the reform of the EU asylum system and the control of entries in the bloc.


But the Maltese interior minister Carmelo Abela did not commit to any agreement.


Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Malta wants the EU to "distribute the migration load among member states more fairly." (Photo: Helen M. Bushe)

"We have to be positive, but also pragmatic and keep our feet on the ground," he told EUobserver in a recent interview in Brussels. "There are different opinions in the council [of ministers]."

As a Mediterranean country close to north African coasts and where the number of asylum seekers increases every year, Malta has said that the EU should "distribute the migration load among member states more fairly."

"Within this, attempts to revise the Dublin Regulation which delineates member states' responsibilities for examining asylum applications, will be key," the Maltese government added when outlining its priorities.

Abela said that several legislative proposals were on his table for the six months when he will chair the EU home affairs meetings, but that "Dublin is the most challenging one."

The reform proposed by the European Commission in April includes a permanent and mandatory mechanism to relocate asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other countries, with a €250,000 fine for each person a country would refuse to relocate.

It has been rejected by several countries, including Slovakia, Malta's predecessor as EU presidency.

Abela said that he "hope[d] to please every one" by taking "a holistic approach" that focus on relocation but also on returning migrants to their country of origin and improving the security of the EU's external border.

"By concentrating on all aspects, maybe it will be possible to have a compromise," he said.

"If all member states strictly stick to the national positions, it will be very difficult to have a compromise. We need to be more flexible in our positions."

Towards the end of its presidency Slovakia presented a strategy for an "effective solidarity" scrapping mandatory relocation and laying out different ways member states could contribute to managing the migration crisis.

Compromise on relocation

"One has to applaud the Slovak presidency for presenting the paper," said Abela, whose government has been a supporter of relocation.

The Maltese minister noted that the commission proposal "was not enough to start a debate," and that the Slovak paper was "a good base for continuing discussing."

"We need to have further discussion but it can be a way forward to arrive at a compromise," he noted.

The search for a compromise on the future of asylum policy is being made more difficult by differences over the current plan to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers before next September.

Abela noted that member states last year "pledged to relocate x amount of refugees" and that they "need[ed] to adhere to the pledge that was made last year," even if some member states voted against the decision.

"We should try and see if there are difficulties to implement [the decision] and we can see the reasons and try to assist" when necessary, he said. But he admitted that with some member states the difficulties were more political than practical.

External borders

The other big issue the Maltese presidency will try to push forward is control of external borders.

Abela said the EU "achieved a lot" this year with the establishment of a EU border and coast guard corps.

The next step will be an agreement between member states on the so-called entry-exit system to collect data on people who enter the passport-free Schengen area and spot overstayers.

"If we manage to agree on the entry-exit system, maybe we'll have a less difficult time with ETIAS," he said.

The European Travel Information and Authorisation System, a wider plan to manage entries of visa-free travelers in Schengen and collect their personal data, was proposed last month by the commission.

EU migration commissioner presented it as "the missing link in our border management, connecting the dots with our migration and security policies."

But the plan has not yet been discussed by ministers, and Abele noted that "we don't know exactly where member states stand."

EU-Turkey

As chair of the interior ministers' meetings, Abela will also have to look at how last March's EU-Turkey agreement to reduce migration is implemented.

Tensions in Turkey and between the EU and Ankara have triggered concerns that the agreement could unravel.

"We see fewer and fewer crossings," the minister noted, adding that the agreement "is giving results, we need to continue" with it.

But he said that "one should never close the door to any kind of solution" if the agreement failed.

"I don't think that we should as this point in time consider alternatives, but we need to be aware that already thousands of refugees are in Turkey with a possibility of entering Europe," he observed.

Malta aims to 'restore faith' in EU

The Mediterranean island will take the six-month EU presidency on 1 January, with migration and security as main priorities.

Agenda

Malta presidency in full swing THIS WEEK

EU commissioners meet in Malta. Meanwhile, Cyprus talks, the European Parliament presidential race, and commissioner Oettinger's hearing are dominating the EU agenda.

No opt-outs on migration, says Malta

For the Mediterranean country that just took the EU presidency, the migration crisis is still there and must be addressed internally and externally.

The heated life of Malta's politics

While the smallest EU state has been commended in Brussels for its smooth presidency of the Council, domestic politics are characterised by heated polarisation with accusations and insults often being traded.

EU backs setting up prosecutor's office

Heads of state and government have agreed to allow a core group of EU states to set up a European Public Prosecutor Office to probe VAT fraud and crimes against the EU budget.

In cooperation with

News in Brief

  1. Vote of no confidence prepared against Spanish PM
  2. Syria to buy Russian anti-missile system
  3. Germany seeks partial burka ban
  4. Libya has no plan to stop migration flows
  5. EU has no evidence of NGO-smuggler collusion in Libya
  6. Poland gets 'final warning' on logging in ancient forest
  7. Commission gives Italy final warning on air pollution
  8. Romania and Slovenia taken to court over environment policies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCharlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum Tells Kids to "Eat Well, Drink Well, Move!"
  2. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey
  3. Counter BalanceParliament Sends Strong Signal to the EIB: Time to Act on Climate Change
  4. ACCARisks and Opportunities of Blockchain and Shared Ledgers Technologies in Financial Services
  5. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  7. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  8. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  9. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  10. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  11. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  12. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process

Latest News

  1. EU boasts unity on Brexit talks
  2. May’s election juggernaut
  3. EPP scolds Orban over university and NGO laws
  4. Oxford-Studie besorgt über 'Schrott' News in Frankreich
  5. Alte Freundschaft zwischen Le Pen und Putin
  6. EP chief faces questions after homophobic 'summit'
  7. EU signals Northern Ireland could join if united with Ireland
  8. One year later: EU right to open internet still virtual

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  2. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  3. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  4. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society
  6. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  7. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  8. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  9. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  10. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  11. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  12. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved