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19th Jan 2020

EU centrists ally with far right on migrant rescues

  • MEPs will vote on a resolution dealing with search and rescue at sea (Photo: Brainbitch)

Centre-right and liberal MEPs joined forces with the far right to weaken European Parliament's political pressure on member states when it comes to NGO search and rescue at sea.

The move is part of a larger resolution to be voted on Thursday (24 October) and comes amid internal efforts to kill off a progressive-led draft agreed earlier this week by the European Parliament's civil liberty committee (Libe).

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The Libe resolution demands EU states allow NGOs to disembark rescued migrants and refugees at their ports, after desperate people were left stranded on charity vessels like the Sea Watch for weeks off Maltese and Italian coasts.

Specifically, the current draft demands "member states to maintain their ports open to NGO vessels."

The original text had gone further, also asking NGOs be allowed to operate "in member state territory" and to "make the registration of NGO vessels less burdensome."

But a push driven by the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), with support from the liberal Renew Europe and the far-right political group Identity and Democracy, managed to remove references to territory and any easing of NGO registration.

Libe resolution in balance

The plan now is to scupper the Libe resolution altogether with alternative versions tabled by the right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, the far-right Identity and Democracy, and the centre-right EPP.

These group resolutions will also go for a vote on Thursday, meaning the nine-page Libe version may never see the light of day.

The order of the vote on Thursday is politically charged, given the plenary will likely be asked to first vote on the version tabled by ECR, then Identity and Democracy, then EPP, and finally the Libe one.

"We are very worried the EPP resolution will pass and the Libe resolution will fail," French far-left MEP Manon Aubry told reporters in Strasbourg.

EU rescue-lite

The EPP resolution is only four pages long and does not ask EU states to maintain their ports open to NGO vessels.

It also leaves out Libe demands for EU states to "enhance proactive search and rescue operations" and adds a line demanding the European Commission continue its cooperation with Libya despite allegations of human rights horrors at its hands.

Asked by EUobserver, if his group intended to support the EPP resolution, Renew Europe's leader Dacian Ciolos said it still needed to be discussed.

"I cannot express an opinion before we have this discussion," he said.

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