Tuesday

19th Sep 2017

EU ready to help Italy in NGO dispute

  • Italy wants other EU states to open their ports to NGOs (Photo: Frontex)

The European Commission said it is willing to help draft disembarkation guidance rules following threats from Italy to prevent NGOs offloading rescued migrants at its ports.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Thursday (29 June), EU commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud said that it understood Italy's concerns and "supports their call for a change in the situation."

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But Bertaud added that any change in policy has to be discussed first with other member states and communicated to the NGOs.

A gathering of member state interior and justice ministers is scheduled for next week on Thursday and Friday in Estonia, where the issue is a priority.

"From our side, the commission is ready to help inform the discussions at the justice and home affairs [meetings] and to draft guidance on disembarkation, if that is needed," she said.

Italy's interior minister, Marco Minniti, who had skipped the last two ministerial meetings, is set to make an appeal among his counterparts for more solidarity.

On Thursday, Rome had threatened to impose the blockade on non-Italian NGOs following an upsurge in migrant and asylum hopeful arrivals from the north African coast since the beginning of the year. Thousands were rescued this week alone.

The Italian government wants other EU member states, such as Malta, France, or Spain, to open up their ports as a sign of solidarity.

Politics and law

But the measure is also part of a broader political wrangle at the EU level, after failed attempts to agree on key EU asylum laws and rules under the leadership of the outgoing Maltese Council of the EU presidency.

"The Italians are trying to offload the burden on unblocking the stalemate at EU level," said Giulia Lagana, a senior analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute in Brussels.

Italian internal politics is also likely at play given the possible upcoming general elections.

Italy's prime minister, Paolo Gentiloni, is leading a centre-left government that is facing an increasingly acrimonious debate on migration from a broad right-wing opposition.

Local elections earlier this week saw the thrashing of the ruling Democratic Party (PD) by the centre-right coalition, which includes the populist Five Star Movement and the virulent anti-EU Lega Nord party.

Former PM Matteo Renzi, who leads the PD and is hoping to take back his seat as prime minister, had downplayed the results.

But Renzi is facing opposition from within his own ranks, with calls for him to resign. He now also appears to be stepping up the rhetoric against migrants.

However, any Italian plan to force NGOs to take rescued migrants elsewhere would likely violate international law.

The law requires a boat to take those rescued to the nearest safe port, now concentrated around Calabria and Sicily.

The host country must also be able to guarantee human rights, meaning they can't be offloaded in places such as Egypt or Tunisia.

The only other option would be Malta, given that Spain and France are too far away.

Earlier this month, Italy's interior under-secretary, Domenico Manzione, told MEPs that the Mediterranean has become the largest grave yard in Europe.

In this year alone, over 2,000 people have died so far in efforts to cross the Central Mediterranean.

Italy imposing new rules on NGO sea rescues

Italy is set to unveil a "code of conduct" for NGOs, while interior ministers from all 28 EU states meet later this week to discuss rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

Opinion

Italy's action against NGOs is wrong

With the code of conduct Italian authorities are trying to impose on NGOs that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean, people would be forced to endure additional days at sea while states tussle over which port to send them too.

EU to step up migrant returns

After Juncker's state of the union speech, the EU Commission is set to propose many new measures on migration before the end of the year, with an emphasis on returns, legal routes, and "solidarity" with African states.

EU to step up migrant returns

After Juncker's state of the union speech, the EU Commission is set to propose many new measures on migration before the end of the year, with an emphasis on returns, legal routes, and "solidarity" with African states.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEFour Tax Initiatives to Modernise the EU's Tax System
  2. Dialogue PlatformResponsibility in Practice: Gulen & Islamic Thought
  3. Counter BalanceHuman Rights Concerns Over EIB Loan to the Trans Anatolian Pipeline Project
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina Leads the Global Clean Energy Transition
  5. CES - Silicones EuropeFrom Baking Moulds to Oven Mitts, Silicones Are a Key Ingredient in Kitchens
  6. Martens CentreFor a New Europeanism: How to Put the Motto "Unity in Diversity" Into Practice
  7. Access MBAGet Ahead With an MBA Degree. Top MBA Event in Brussels
  8. Idealist QuarterlyIdealist Quarterly Event: Building Fearless Democracies With Gerald Hensel
  9. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Urges Bigger Global Role for Emerging Economies
  10. EU2017EEAre We Socially Insured in the Future of Work?
  11. European Jewish CongressFrench Authorities to Root Out "Societal Antisemitism" After Jewish Family Assaulted
  12. European Federation of Local Energy CompaniesClean Energy for All? On 10.10 Top-Level Speakers Present the Clean Energy Package