Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

Opinion

What Salvini teaches us about Operation Sophia

In his political rampage since becoming Italy's minister of the interior, Matteo Salvini has recently begun targeting European crisis management missions such as Operation Sophia.

This mission, currently led by an Italian admiral and specifically pushed for back in 2015 by the then-Italian government, aroused his displeasure because of its rescue efforts for migrants in the Mediterranean.

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.

... or join as a group

Rescuing humans at sea is not really the mission's mandate, but an obligation by international law for all ships (under the UN convention on the law of the sea") – something that Salvini seems to dislike.

He has pressured the other member states of the EU into drawing up a new operational plan for Operation Sophia by the end of August in accordance with his demand that the mission stop transferring migrants to Italian harbours.

Otherwise, he will push for its termination. Already in June, he called on other (often privately organised) humanitarian rescue missions to stop rescuing people in the Mediterranean – and closed the Italian harbours to their ships.

Well, even if he wishes to, Salvini cannot change international law for ships at sea nor ask Operation Sophia to take rescued people all the way to Spain, France or Portugal.

That would absolutely overstretch the mission and limit its capacities to implement the original mandate.

Nevertheless, he managed, again, to produce a populist (and nonsensical) request, which pleases his political base and further complicates the ongoing search for a European Union solution to migration.

Mission creep?

But his move could teach us something else: that missions under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union should not be used for highly-contested internal policy issues such as migration.

The rescuing of people and the prevention of smuggling and trafficking must be dealt with by national coast guards and national police or the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), with its mission Themis, as well as Europol.

Indeed, the Italian coast guard accounted for 40 percent of the rescued migrants between 2015-17 while Themis for ten percent and Operation Sophia for 13 percent.

CSDP missions such as Sophia are very political from the outset as they can only be established by a wide consensus of all member states.

They always display an important and political message to the public: that the EU as a whole is engaged.

But that makes such missions especially vulnerable to political fights between member states or their haggling over diverse geopolitical interests.

In contrast, EU Commission instruments and agencies, such as Frontex or Europol, are less affected by political quarrels in their daily operational tasks.

Nevertheless, the EU and its member states are currently implementing a reform of their civilian crisis missions that could further entangle these with the populist debates we see today around Operation Sophia.

Like other instruments, EU missions are more and more called upon as tools to "fight" problems related to migration.

Diagnosis

One can actually pinpoint this development to early summer of 2016 when the new EU Global Strategy - which then became a key reference for European foreign and security policy - was published.

The Global Strategy has changed the foreign policy of the Union, realigning it more clearly than before with the internal security interests of its member states.

As a result, European peace operations have begun to change, too.

Previously, missions were mostly supporting local partners in stabilisation and peace-building efforts.

Nowadays, they are advising them on how to close their borders and "manage" migration – with the clear aim to reduce migration into the EU.

It seems as if the EU and some member states are trying to "sell" European external action to migration-critical populist governments in Italy, Austria, Poland and Hungary by advertising it as a key to solving their internal issues – and thus pulling these missions right into the middle of today's populist debates.

Maybe the EU should indeed contemplate closing Operation Sophia to prevent future political hostage taking by Salvini and others.

Instead, it could strengthen Themis and the Italian coast guard and make sure that Italy upholds international law for its vessels so that finally the number of people dying in the Mediterranean goes down, again.

The training of Libyan coast guards and the fighting of smugglers can anyway only be tackled in a sustainable manner once Libya has a reached a certain level of stability and national governance.

Achieving that has always been beyond Operation Sophia's mandate or capability.

Salvini cynically hopes that more deaths at sea would work as deterrence.

What happened to the political decency that the Italian government displayed in 2013 and 2014 with 'Mare Nostrum', the so-far most efficient rescue mission in the Mediterranean?

Its narrative that "nobody is dying in our sea under our watch" is clearly missing in today's inhumane debates.

And it is a rather disturbing coincidence that Austria's new conservative-populist government holds the presidency of the EU during the time that Europe will decide about the future of its migration policies – as well as the future of its external crisis missions.

Tobias Pietz is deputy head of the analysis division at the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF) in Berlin

EU Commission skirts Italy sanctions on Roma evictions

The European Commission, as guardian of the treaties, declines to sanction Italy's treatment of the Roma following a forced eviction on Thursday of some 300 from a camp in the outskirts of the Italian capital.

Investigation

How Italy's government might hijack EU migration policy

Matteo Salvini promises to send record numbers of migrants packing. However, that quickly comes up against the cost, logistics, and diplomacy, of how such a threat would be carried out - and the price for the EU as a whole.

How EU agriculture policy endangers migrants' lives

Most migrants, like most European citizens, would rather have proper contracts, pay taxes and benefit from the social services rather than toil in the fields for up to 15 hours a day, in dangerous conditions, for meagre pay.

News in Brief

  1. EU tables plan for joint approach to 5G security
  2. MEPs agree to scrap summer time clock changes by 2021
  3. European Parliament votes on reform of copyright
  4. New French-German parliament meets for first time
  5. EU parliament reduces polling ahead of elections
  6. UK parliament votes to take control of Brexit process
  7. EU publishes no-deal Brexit contingency plans
  8. EU urges Israel and Gaza to re-establish calm

Italy should capitalise on Brexit

Now that the UK is leaving, Italy can, and should, step up. It is the third largest country and economy in the EU. Spain and Poland follow, but they are significantly smaller economically and population-wise.

The Magnitsky Act - and its name

It is disappointing that so many MEPs in the Socialist and Green group caved in to Russian interests, in fear of challenging a plutocratic regime, by saying 'no' to naming the Magnitsky legislation by its rightful name: Magnitsky.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. EU lawmakers pass contentious copyright law
  2. France takes Chinese billions despite EU concerns
  3. Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?
  4. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  5. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  6. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  7. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  8. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us