The plan agreed late on Friday, November 25 follows France’s accusation that Italy had not respected the law of the sea when it turned away the NGO vessel earlier this month that was assisting with the rescue of migrants.
That triggered crisis talks in Brussels over what is a politically fraught and dividing issue.
Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan, whose country holds the EU presidency, said afterwards that everyone was in agreement more needed to be done. A pre-planned meeting on December 8 will see ministers pick up the discussion in particular looking at what more can be done.
Margaritis Schinas, European Commission Vice-President charged with “promoting our European way of life”, said that Europe could no longer settle for just another ad hoc short-term solution.
She added: “We cannot continue working event-by-event, ship-by-ship, incident-by-incident, route-by-route,” he said, recalling that previous crises had been seized upon by “populistic and Europhobe forces.”
Although numbers are down on their peak levels of 2015 and 2016, tensions still remain over the even distribution of arrivals across the 27 member countries. This is not a new issue but rather one that has taxed interior ministers for years.
The failure by Italy’s new government to allow a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship to dock with its cargo of 234 migrants that had been rescued, sparked a major row that has once again brought the issue to the fore.
That ship eventually travelled on to France where it was allowed to dock but which enraged authorities in the country, resulting in their cancelling a deal with Italy to take 3,500 asylum seekers.
Admitting this was not how to handle migrants Schinas said: “We have twenty specific actions, we have an important political agreement, and everyone is committed to working so as not to reproduce this kind of situation.”
Many of the ministers present were critical of their counterparts saying that they were bearing the brunt of the migrant situation. Some went so far as to say they were handling far more than their fair share with agreements to relocate people from one area to other seldom being followed through.
The new plan unveiled by the Commission was not well received but in light of nothing better and the need for an urgent resolution, ministers accepted it.
Those that were critical of the plan include agencies like Oxfam, as well as diplomats who all say that the plan is merely a reshuffle of old ideas and there is nothing new.
The new plan to tackle migration would see the EU work more closely with its southern neighbours including Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to try to stop undocumented migrants making the crossing. But the Mediterranean is not the only area to be suffering an influx with the Balkans having to tackle the same issues including Turkiye’s failure to take back undocumented migrants.
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