Thursday

19th Sep 2019

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.


Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 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.

News in Brief

  1. Austria to veto EU trade deal with South America
  2. Brexit minister asks EU for 'flexibility' to secure a deal
  3. Kovesi has 'sufficient majority' for prosecutor post
  4. France, Finland give UK ultimatum for Brexit plan
  5. Minsk talks bode ill for EU's peace summit on Ukraine
  6. Poll: Poland's nationalist rulers to win October election
  7. Irish lawyers clash with EU commission in Apple case
  8. NGOs take aim at EU smartphone pollution

Schengen at stake in Austria-Germany talks

German interior minister Horst Seehofer is in Vienna on Thursday - as his plan to reject some asylum seekers was met by an Austrian threat to close its borders too.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  2. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  3. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  4. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  5. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants
  6. Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'
  7. A new Commission for the one percent
  8. Juncker: No-deal Brexit 'palpable'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us