Macron attempts to strike EU migration deal

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Talks have been held in Paris among EU Foreign and Interior Ministers in order to discuss mechanisms to distribute migrants rescued in the Mediterranean within the EU.

According to statements by French President Emmanuel Macron, a deal has been agreed “in principle” between 14 EU member states – but only 8 of them have fully agreed to it (Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Portugal). It is understood that the deal aims to save the lives of those making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing towards the EU and to accept “genuine asylum seekers”, while more efficiently returning illegal immigrants to their countries of origin.

However, very little of the deal’s actual content has been made public. The agreement addresses the need to share the burden of the resettlement of migrants arriving through the Mediterranean, as well as that Italy and Malta would have to open their ports to ships carrying migrants.

The talks have come after a difficult year for the European Union regarding migration from the Mediterranean. Although the number of Mediterranean crossings has been falling ever since the EU began encouraging Libyan authorities to stop migrants from making the crossing from North Africa, the EU has yet to resolve the tensions among its members about how those who do arrive should be distributed across the continent.

This March saw the end of the EU’s migrant rescue missions, and NGOs face increasing difficulties in rescuing those at sea. All this contributes to the deterioration of the situation; at least 426 people have died so far this year while attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.

Part of the problem for the EU is having to strike a balance between the members who are more eager to take in migrants, and those who want to keep them out. Italy, led by the right-wing populist League party, has been a particularly vocal member of the latter group in the past year. The Italian government’s hardline stance towards migration has been led by Matteo Salvini, the Interior Minister and leader of the League Party.

Over the course of the past decade, Italy has received more Mediterranean migrants, who largely set off from Libya, than any other EU member state – in 2018 alone, over 14,000 migrants arrived in Italy. This has led the government to complain that it takes in a disproportionately large number of migrants compared to other members of the EU. In the past month, the Italian government and various charities, including SOS Mediterranée, have been at loggerheads, with Italy refusing to allow NGO rescue vessels carrying migrants to dock in the country.

After Macron announced that a deal was in the works, Matteo Salvini, who did not attend Monday’s talks, tweeted that “Italy does not take orders,” and that if Macron wishes to discuss migration, “he should come to Rome.” He later dubbed the talks a “flop,” accusing the EU of wanting to use Italy as ‘Europe’s refugee camp’.

Additionally, Salvini warned the French Interior Minister, Christophe Castaner, of the risks and effects of decisions “taken solely in Paris and Berlin.” What he presumably means to suggest is that the voice of countries that share Italy’s strict views on migration should equally be heard at the negotiating table – although it is admittedly puzzling how he plans to achieve this in light of the fact that Salvini has not attended any of the 22 sessions focused on the migrant crisis held in the past two years.

In response, although without naming names, Macron has stated that he would oppose giving EU funds to countries that did not cooperate with striking a deal regarding migrant redistribution. After the talks on Monday ended, he said “Europe can’t be à la carte when it comes 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.’”

President Macron’s statements have been interpreted as warnings not only to Italy, but also to countries such as Hungary and Poland, which have adopted strict migration policies in the past couple of years. It remains to be seen whether this will encourage them to cooperate in the coming weeks and months.

Image by Jeanne Menjoulet via Flickr

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