Saturday

18th Nov 2017

Italy wants EU bonds to fund migration policies

  • "The unprecedented phenomenon of growing migratory flows towards Europe is expected to last for decades," says Italy (Photo: iom.int)

With Italy at risk of once again becoming a principal migratory route, Rome is trying to take the lead on strategy by floating ideas for funding migration policy with European bonds.

Italy called for the creation of "migration bonds" and "EU-Africa" bonds in a proposal for a "migration compact" briefly discussed at a foreign affairs ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.

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The first category would be issued "to fund the migration management in member states and to finance the migration compact" goals, the document says.

The objective of the EU-Africa bonds would be "to facilitate the access of African countries to capital markets … as well as other innovative financing initiatives".

"It is an innovative solution. It could be used to fund infrastructure projects which are useful to the development of the countries," an Italian official told EUobserver.

While the Africa bonds are a new idea, bonds to fund EU migration policies were already proposed in another document, on economic issues, published by the Italian government in February.

But the idea was rejected by Germany, a long-time critic of collective EU debt, also on Monday.

"The German government does not see any basis for a common funding of debt for member states' spending for migration," chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman told journalists in Berlin.

The EU commission took note of Germany’s statement but sounded more open to the idea.

"The commission has always supported the idea that in order to finance migration policies, we have to be imaginative," its spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, told journalists.

The migration compact, which was briefly discussed by foreign affairs ministers in Luxembourg, contains wider suggestions.

In the document, Italian authorities warned that “the unprecedented phenomenon of growing migratory flows towards Europe is expected to last for decades due to various geopolitical dynamics in the neighbourhood and beyond".

"The migratory challenge is seriously jeopardising the fundamental pillars of European integration (e.g. integrity of the Schengen area) and solidarity among member states.”

It adds that “migration may represent an opportunity both for the EU and partner countries, in terms of economic growth and development, and for an ageing Europe in terms of sustainability of social security systems".

Grand bargain

The compact's objective, the Italian official said, is to make EU foreign policy address the crisis in parallel to EU internal developments.

"If we don't focus on the reasons for the economic migration, the internal solutions will never be sufficient," the official said.

The Italian government’s "fair grand bargain" would see the EU offer investment projects and security cooperation in addition to the bond scheme.

It would also expand opportunities for legal migration and resettlement programmes "as compensation for the burden on those countries that engage in establishing national asylum systems in line with international standards".

In return, the EU would ask countries of origin of migrants, mainly in Africa, for a "commitment on effective border control and reduction of flows towards Europe" as well as commitments on returns.

Target countries would also be asked to establish sites to "screen refugees and economic migrants" similar to the EU “hotspots” in Greece and Italy. They would host "reception centres for refugees, financed by the EU".

EU diplomacy chief Federica Mogherini said after the foreign ministers meeting that “most of [the Italian plan’s] elements support [the EU's] ongoing work and activities.”

"It constitutes a positive political contribution," she said.

Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker was, his spokesman said, also “very glad" to find "strong support by Italy and prime minister Renzi himself" for a European solution to the problems.

Juncker's thumbs up for Renzi comes after the two leaders fell out during the winter.

New increase

Renzi, who is battling to obtain more budget flexibility from the EU, especially for spending on migration, needs Juncker’s support.

The Italian PM wants his plan to be discussed by EU leaders at their next summit in June.

Italy's proposal comes amid concerns over a new increase in migrant arrivals across the central Mediterranean Sea.

On Monday, EU border agency Frontex said the number of migrants crossing to Italy had more than doubled in March compared to February because of better weather.

There were 9,600 detections, compared with 2,283 in March 2015, just before the EU launched a naval mission to stop people smuggling across the sea.

Exactly a year ago, on 18 April 2015, Mogherini recalled, some 800 people died when their boat sank on its way from Libya to Italy.

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