Sunday

16th May 2021

Juncker avoids main question on Italy's 'migration compact'

  • Juncker (r) to Renzi (l): "I count on your continuous support" (Photo: Italian PM office)

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has welcomed an Italian proposal for a "migration compact" but did not commit to support the boldest and most controversial measures in it.

"I very much welcome your initiative which confirms the need for a European approach to migration that I have advocated since my election as president of the commission," Juncker wrote in a letter to Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi.

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"Like you, I am convinced that only a stronger European approach in the current refugee crisis, which included both internal and external EU policies will help us to orderly manage migratory flows to Europe and to return to a fully functioning Schengen system in a spirit of enhanced solidarity," he said.

Juncker's reaction did not come as a surprise to Renzi.

Juncker’s spokesman had used the same words in a statement to press last Monday after Renzi outlined his project in a letter to Juncker and to European Council president Donald Tusk.

The proposed migration compact envisions a "fair grand bargain" with countries of origin of migrants coming to Europe, particularly in Africa.

Same agenda

According to the Italian plan, the EU would give development aid and offer legal resettlement programmes in exchange for the countries controlling migration flows and screening economic migrants and refugees.

To do so, Italy proposed the creation of "EU-Africa" bonds that would be used to finance investment, mainly in infrastructure projects.

It also proposed that the EU issues a “migration bond" to pay for its internal management of migration.

But Juncker, who wrote he was "glad to see that [Renzi and he] share the same agenda", did not mention the migration bonds in his letter.

The idea, which is controversial in other member states, was flatly rejected by Germany on Monday. Berlin said it did not see "any basis for a common funding of debt for member states' spending for migration".

In his letter to Renzi, Juncker wrote that he agreed "on the need to look at innovative means", but he referred only to the financing of the EU's external action.

This "is precisely the objective of the EU-Africa Trust Fund, made up of €1.8 billion" and agreed at a summit in Malta last November, Juncker wrote, suggesting that the "EU-Africa bonds" proposed by Italy may not be necessary.

A good atmosphere'

While Renzi may have launched his initiative to regain influence around the EU leaders' table and to orientate EU migration policy in a direction more favourable to Italy, Juncker seems to see it as a mere alignment behind the commission's position.

Juncker said in his letter that "the commission will continue to work hard and to keep pushing for more Europe" to address the migration crisis, and that it will present in June a communication on the EU's external strategy regarding migration.

"I count on your continuous support and working closely with you in this important endeavour," Juncker wrote to conclude his message to Renzi.

Renzi's proposal and Juncker's answer may not position Italy as a leader in the EU migration policy but the exchange will soothe the relationship between the two men, after a fallout last winter.

Juncker even added a heart to his hand-written signature at the bottom of his letter.

Renzi said on Thursday that he "very much appreciated Juncker's letter" and felt "a good atmosphere with European institutions compared to a few months ago".

"I thank [Juncker] for his sensitivity," he said.

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