Wednesday

19th Jan 2022

EU: boat-sinking Yes, migrant quotas No

  • EU foreign affairs chief Mogherini and its top military official, Patrick de Rousiers, in Brussels on Monday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

France and Poland on Monday (18 May) restated strong opposition to EU proposals on migrant relocation quotas, despite Italian appeals.

French EU affairs minister Harlem Desir told media in Brussels that “France is against this proposal of quotas for handling irregular migrants in Europe”.

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He said international law requires countries to evaluate each person’s asylum claim on individual merit instead of treating them in bulk.

“The proposal made by the European Commission must be discussed, but we don’t support the idea of quotas, which don’t correspond to the [international] rules. We need solidarity, responsibility, and respect for the rules.”

The Polish foreign affairs minister, Grzegorz Schetyna, said the commission idea “has not been taken up with any enthusiasm” in the EU Council.

He said it goes against the conclusions of an emergency EU summit on migration, held last month, which opted to uphold Dublin - the old agreement that the country where an asylum seeker enters the EU is responsible for their claim.

He noted that he’s spoken with more than 10 of his EU counterparts, adding “I don’t think it’ll [the quota plan] be accepted by a majority of countries”.

Their remarks come after the French PM, Manuel Valls, and Polish leader, Ewa Kopacz, spoke out against the quotas over the weekend.

The Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia, and the UK have also criticised it.

But for his part, Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni told press on Monday: “I really hope that we don’t take steps backward compared to the commission's proposals … It would be very bitter if there were steps backwards”.

Italy’s interior minister, Angelino Alfano, added in an interview with Italian press : “I don’t think the EU commission would have ventured into such a choice if it hadn’t had some sense of the willingness of [EU] states to proceed.”

The Irish foreign minister, Charles Flanagan, also said his country is ready to “play its part” in sharing the burden.

Italy, together with Bulgaria, Greece, and Malta are on the front line of the EU migrant crisis.

The commission last week said asylum claims should be allocated to member states on basis of population and GDP size, as well as unemployment rates and numbers of claimants already hosted.

Its estimate is that Germany would take the most, on 18.42 percent of all claims, followed by France on 14.17 percent, and Italy on 11.84 percent.

Military operation

EU foreign ministers on Monday did voice support for a parallel plan to start sinking migrant-smugglers' boats in a new military operation, to be called EU Navfor Med.

The meeting in Brussels is expected to give a preliminary green light, pending final agreement by EU leaders next month, as well as the say-so of Libyan authorities and the UN Security Council.

UK foreign minister Philip Hammond said: “We have to deal with criminal trafficking gangs … we have to work with Libya to stop embarkation”.

France’s Desir noted that after people are rescued the boats’ motors should be “destroyed”. He added the EU should help police in Niger to intercept migrants en route to embarkation points.

The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, also present Monday, said the military alliance is “ready to help” the EU “if it is requested”.

"One of the problems is that there might be foreign fighters, there might be terrorists trying to hide, trying to blend in among the migrants," he said.

“This underlines the importance that we have to respond”.

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