Tuesday

18th Jun 2019

Italy and Malta say 'No' to Frontex rules in sea rescue operations

  • Poverty and conflict drive many to attempt the perilous Mediterranean crossing (Photo: Frontex)

A handful of Mediterranean member states are against proposed EU rules on how to save migrants out at sea.

Despite calls for greater EU support by their heads of state, Italy and Malta say the European Commission does not have the appropriate legal powers to lead search and rescue and disembarkation operations in the Mediterranean.

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

They are backed by Greece, Spain, France, and Cyprus.

“All these countries are asking the other member states to help them and to take responsibility but at the same time they don’t want those member states to be responsible for the search and rescue through common guidelines drawn up by the commission,” Ann Singleton, co-chair of the trustees of the UK-based civil liberties group Statewatch, told this website on Wednesday (16 October),

Singleton, who is also a research centre head at the University of Bristol, said the member states are reluctant to cede sovereign powers over to the EU in any meaningful, positive common migration policy.

Instead the EU has ended up with “a hotch-potch of counter-productive control of immigration border policies”, which has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths over the last decade.

Public announcements against accepting more migrants have put the six on guard.

“From their perspective, they are seeing announcements by other member states saying that they don’t want to accept any more refugees and migrants,” said Singleton.

All six have maritime territories that extend out to the Mediterranean Sea where each year thousands of migrants and refugees cross to the EU.

The commission in April put forward a proposal on rules of engagement for joint patrolling and the disembarkation of intercepted or rescued persons at sea.

It says member states can sometimes apply different and even conflicting rules in the same sea operation. The breach of fundamental rights and so-called push backs would be guaranteed, says the commission.

“Amidst this legal uncertainty, member states’ participation in sea operations co-ordinated by the agency [Frontex] was low in terms of contributing craft, vessels and human resources,” notes the commission proposal.

But the six member states, in a document dated 10 October, say the ideas on search and rescue situations and returning those rescued to land “constitutes a red line.”

They say existing international rules are sufficient and that it is up to member states to carry them out.

The European Commission input and competence, it notes, “is highly questionable.”

They also contest a European Court of Justice decision that the European Parliament has any say in the matter.

A Maltese diplomat told this website that the proposed provisions on search and rescue and disembarkation risks creating discrepancies with existing international law.

“This in no way implies opposition to Frontex-coordinated joint operations, nor does it in any way detract from the effectiveness of the operation, ” he said.

He pointed out that Malta supports an enhanced role for Frontex-coordinated operations at the Mediterranean.

The show of protest comes at a sensitive moment.

Over 350 migrants died two weeks ago after their boat caught fire and capsized off the Italian island of Lampedusa.

In a separate incident a week later, some 200 migrants and Syrian refugees were rescued in a joint-Maltese and Italian operation, although 34 perished.

The two disasters drew widespread condemnation from national and EU leaders as Syrian refugees and migrants continue to embark across the waters regardless of the dangers.

Some 32,000 are said to have attempted the crossing to Italy since the beginning of the year up to the end of September.

EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom had on 8 October, in the wake of the Lampedusa disaster, announced that Frontex would expand its rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

“I have asked the ministers to give their political support and to make the necessary resources available,” she said.

Member states have yet to receive any formal details of Malmstrom’s plan.

A EU source close to the issue said they are unlikely to make any decision in the near future on her proposal.

The commission, for its part, is currently discussing Malmstrom’s plans with Frontex.

Opinion

The Mediterranean Sea: A migration border

Economic, social and political instability in neighbouring countries creates migration, but are more border controls the best response?

MEP blasts Portugal over football whistleblower

Ana Gomes, a socialist MEP from Portugal, has accused national authorities of erring on the side of corruption by detaining a whistleblower who helped expose tax evasion by some of Europe's biggest football stars.

News in Brief

  1. Swiss stock exchange could lose EU access in July
  2. Austria's Strache will not take up EU parliament seat
  3. Tanker attacks pose questions for EU on Iran deal
  4. Johnson skips TV debate for UK prime ministership
  5. Slovakia's first female president takes office
  6. Irish immigration officers flew back business class
  7. Catalan MEP denied taking seat in European Parliament
  8. EU plans to restructure eurozone bonds

Opinion

A fundamental contradiction in EU drug policy

The knock-on affects from a 'war on drugs' in Europe is creating problems in Albania - and as far afield as Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. EU summit must give effective answer on migration
  2. Spain's Garcia set to be next Socialist leader in parliament
  3. Erdogan mocks Macron amid EU sanctions threat
  4. The most dangerous pesticide you've never heard of
  5. 'Russian sources' targeted EU elections with disinformation
  6. Top EU jobs summit dominates This WEEK
  7. EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit
  8. MEP blasts Portugal over football whistleblower

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us