Saturday

7th Dec 2019

Macron: 14 EU states agree on a migration 'mechanism'

  • Official EU search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea have stopped after Italy refused to take in migrants (Photo: Flickr)

French president Emmanuel Macron said on Monday (22 July) that a total of 14 EU member states have signed up to "solidarity mechanism" for allocating asylum-seekers across the bloc.

The announcement came after EU foreign affairs and interior ministers gathered in Paris to discuss how to distribute migration across the EU in case of a boat in distress is seeking to dock in Europe, and after Italy insisted the EU tackles the issue.

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"The conclusion of this morning's meeting is that, in principle, 14 member states, at this stage, have expressed their agreement with the Franco-German document," Macron told reporters.

Macron, however, remained tight-lipped about the specifics but said the new initiative would be "quick" and "automatic".

"I think that we have not yet reached our goal, but we have managed to get much further than we have been before," German foreign minister Heiko Maas said after the meeting.

"The haggling around rescues in the Mediterranean has to be ended," he added, saying a "coalition of the willing" was required.

Ministers aimed to come up with a mechanism that avoids situations on the Mediterranean Sea, whereby migrant boats are refused at ports partly because the receiving countries deem it unfair that then they have to process all the asylum seekers arriving via the sea.

The French president said more specifically that eight EU countries - France, Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Lithuania, Croatia and Ireland - have agreed to share the resettlement of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

Macron added that another six nations backed in principle a Franco-German plan at talks in Paris.

But Italy is not part of the agreement reached on Monday, and hardline anti-immigration interior minister and deputy PM, the League's Matteo Salvini, did not take part in the meeting.

In a tweet on Monday evening, Salvini said that "Italy does not take orders from others" and "if Macron wants to discuss immigrants", he should go to Rome.

Alongside Greece and Spain, Italy is one of the main EU landing points for migrants attempting to reach the EU via the Mediterranean from Africa and the Middle East.

Italy took in almost all of the migrants rescued by humanitarian groups at sea until the populist League/Five Star Movement coalition government took office in 2018 and cut off its ports to charity ships, and started prosecuting NGOs.

Nearly 700 deaths have been recorded in the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The EU's rescue mission, Operation Sophia, ended its naval patrols earlier this year in the Mediterranean due to disagreements on how rescued migrants should be distributed. Since its launch in 2015, the mission has rescued tens of thousands of people.

Italy has also resisted those naval operations, saying all those rescued at sea were taken to Italian ports.

EU countries have been bogged down in deadlock over a new set of rules on how to deal with a large influx of asylum seekers, with Italy being adamant about distributing migrants. Hungary and Poland, on the other hand, have refused to take in people.

However, Salvini has kept quiet from criticising the fellow anti-migration governments in Warsaw and Budapest for their tough stance against distribution.

No money

Macron also warned on Monday that he would be against releasing EU funds to those nations that refused to cooperate in the sharing of asylum-seekers.

"Europe can't be a la carte when it comes down to solidarity. We can't have states which say 'We don't want any of your Europe when it's about sharing the burden but we do when it's about structural funds'," he said.

"That won't last, or in any case, I won't sign off on financial provisions which go in that direction," he added.

Macron's comments are a clear warning to Hungary and Poland, whose governments have adopted hardline policies against migrants, and refused previous EU burden-sharing initiatives.

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