29th Nov 2022

Paris-Rome spat exposes EU 'solidarity' rift on asylum

  • France will no longer relocate 3,500 asylum seekers from Italy (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)
Listen to article

The European Commission says solidarity on migration remains — despite Paris refusing to relocate some 3,500 asylum seekers from Italy, under a French EU presidency-inspired proposal to distribute thousands of people across member states.

The French refusal follows a spat with Italy's rightwing government over the Ocean Viking vessel, which was denied a port by Rome to disembark 234 people rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. Ocean Viking eventually disembarked in Toulon, a French port city, after a three-week hiatus at sea with most of those onboard being sent on to other EU states.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"It's unfortunate that they use politics for humanitarianism," Louise Guillaumat, deputy director of operations at SOS Mediterranee, which operates the Ocean Viking rescue ship, told EUobserver on Monday (14 November).

The 3,500 France will no longer take is part of EU's so-called solidarity mechanism, where member states could voluntarily take-in asylum seekers arriving on Italian shores or elsewhere like Greece.

That mechanism was launched in June, at the behest of the French EU presidency earlier this year, which had billed the initiative as historic.

The initial plan sought 10,000 pledges but only managed 8,000, spread across among 13 states , while Denmark, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Switzerland offered only to provide financial contributions.

Some 117 people have been relocated to date, of which 38 went to France from Italy in late August. Another 74 left Italy on 11 October to German cities Hannover and Berlin. France says another 500 would have arrived from Italy by the end of the year.

When pressed on what the French pull-out now means for the solidarity mechanism, the commission suggested nothing was amiss.

"We have seen the need for solidarity and we have also seen the need for the solidarity to continue. And this is in fact happening," a commission spokesperson said.

The response likely points to broader sensitivities over a politically-charged issue whose solution has eluded EU states for years. France is now reportedly demanding that Germany not relocate people from Italy, either.

On Sunday evening, French government spokesman Olivier Véran demanded Europe retaliate against Italy. "The first response was humanitarian in allowing the boat docked in Toulon on Friday," he said.

"The second response is to remind Italy of its obligations, and if it refuses to do so, to consider any useful measure".

The apparent threat followed a joint-statement issued over the weekend by Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus. They said they "cannot subscribe to the notion that countries of first entry are the only possible European landing spots for illegal immigrants."

They also complained that the number of migrants taken in by other EU member states "only represents a very small fraction of the actual number of irregular arrivals."

Italy says it has taken in some 88,000 so far this year, although only a small fraction were disembarked from NGO boats. According to International Organisation for Migration, only 15 percent were rescued by NGO vessels.

Everyone else were rescued by the Italian Coast Guard and other Italian state-led rescue ships or arrived autonomously, they said.

The issue is likely to be broached on Monday during the EU foreign affairs ministerial meeting in Brussels.

Laurence Boone, France's foreign minister, told reporters ahead of the meeting that questions over asylum solidarity will also be discussed.

The commission wants a special meeting among EU interior ministers to help settle the dispute. Margaritis Schinas, a commission vice-president, said they were now drawing up an emergency plan to ease the tensions.

"We cannot allow two member states fighting each other in public and creating yet another mega political crisis over migration," he told Politico Europe, in an interview, last Friday.

EU Commission cannot stop Italy banning rescue boats

The European Commission says it is powerless to stop Italy from banning charity rescue boats entering its territorial waters. The statement follows moves by the new government under Georgia Meloni to further crack down on the Mediterranean Sea rescues.

EU Commission suggests need for new charity rescue boat rules

EU Commission says it has no proposal and is not the competent authority, but that talks with the International Maritime Organisation are needed to create "specific framework and guidelines" for NGO boats rescuing people and bringing them to European shores.

Ocean Viking mentally preps for another Italian standoff

The Ocean Viking operated by SOS Mediterranee is mentally preparing for a new lengthy standoff with Italy's right wing government. Louise Guillaumat, its deputy director of operations, told EUobserver that the ship will soon be heading out to sea.


EU should help, not worsen, the refugee crisis in Libya

As MEPs debate the situation in Libya in the plenary for the first time in four years, the International Rescue Committee's Libya director says the EU must act now to prevent the country spiralling further into chaos.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. Post-COP27 optimism — non-Western voices are growing
  2. Legal scholars: Prosecuting Putin 'legally problematic'
  3. A missed opportunity in Kazakhstan
  4. EU's Hungary funds, China, energy, and Frontex This WEEK
  5. Sweden says 'no' to EU asylum relocation pledges
  6. The 'proof' problem with EU sanctions — and how to fix it
  7. The EU gas cap: will the bottle ever be 'uncorked'?
  8. Enough talk, only rights can eliminate patriarchal violence

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us