Monday

25th Jun 2018

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."

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.

... our join as a group

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our side, the commission is ready to help inform the discussions at the justice and home affairs [meetings] and to draft guidance on disembarkation, if that is needed," she said.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 leaders still in search of migration plan

Select EU leaders met amid rising tension over migration, with Italy's PM, who had threatened to boycott the summit, putting forward a new plans to stop boats from leaving Libya.

Opinion

Fate of EU refugee deal hangs in the balance

Europe's choice is between unplanned, reactive, fragmented, ineffective migration policy and planned, regulated, documented movements of people, writes International Rescue Committee chief David Miliband.

Opinion

EU summit: migrants get a 'vote' too

Non-citizens from Nigeria to Afghanistan get a binding 'vote' on whatever the EU's internal debates submit to them. They will vote with their feet on whether to keep trying their luck when faced with a new system.

News in Brief

  1. EP civil liberties committee votes for Article 7 on Hungary
  2. Report blames 2017 egg scare on lax EU enforcement
  3. Nine countries to sign up for Macron's military initiative
  4. Re-elected Erdogan potentially in power until 2028
  5. Macron's popularity drops among French pensioners
  6. Tajani calls for €6bn investment to halt migration
  7. Major demo in London for second EU referendum
  8. Venice Commission: Hungary should repeal NGO law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  2. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  4. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  5. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  7. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  11. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  12. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform

Latest News

  1. Rutte - from 'Mr No' to 'next Tusk'?
  2. UN offers to help EU's migrant 'disembarkation' plan
  3. Progressive CAP alternative only hope for sustainability
  4. Ponytailed green MEP joins 'the other side of the table'
  5. EU leaders still in search of migration plan
  6. Migration row at centre of EU summit This Week
  7. Merkel's woes cast shadow on EU's future
  8. Europe's tech race - trying to keep pace with US and China

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us