‘Building walls to protect borders is a false illusion’ – Muscat

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat emerges from emergency meeting ‘satisfied’ that Europe is finally discussing the issue of migration

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat emerged from a seven-hour long informal meeting of EU leaders “satisfied” that the European Union was finally discussing the issue of migration as it should.

“The Rubicon was finally crossed yesterday and the debate of whether the relocation plan should be on a voluntary or non-voluntary basis is over. The quota deal is clear sign of Europe moving forward. The idea of having a frank discussion solely on migration was unheard of until six months ago, when it was a struggle to even have a mention in Council conclusions,” Muscat said.

Addressing reporters in Brussels at 1am, the Maltese prime minister also confirmed that a number of member states had already started targeting human traffickers. This, he said, was evident by the change in route of migratory flows.

Pressed by journalists, Muscat was reluctant to say which member states were enforcing action against smugglers but said that those doing so were following their legal systems.

Muscat said it was interesting to note member states in central Europe raising issues which were previously raised by countries in the Mediterranean. “Countries have finally realised that this crisis is a challenge for the whole of Europe … and we had the luxury of standing by our original stance.”

Muscat said the 120,000 figure agreed to by interior ministers on Tuesday was “irrelevant”. “It’s not about numbers but about sending a clear political signal. 120,000 – taken in the context of two million Syrians waiting in Turkey and another seven million who are displaced – is a small number. It is a political sign which the EU gave to show that it cannot remain hostage of a small number of countries.”

The EU yesterday agreed to the relocation plan by a qualified majority – a decision which all member states have to follow, with the exception of those who can opt-out. All countries – with the exception of Slovakia that is threatening a court challenge – have agreed to the plan.

Muscat said Europe now had the political and moral authority to discuss the crisis at a global level, being the only continent that is doing something coordinated. He registered his disagreement with Hungary’s decision to build walls and called for a common European policy. “We don’t have the ‘luxury’ of building fences and we won’t allow people to lose lives at sea. The illusion that we can simply build a wall to protect Europe is not a solution. It may appeal to some countries but it is simply postponing the problem.”

Muscat said the EU needed to enforce its returns policy, which also required a coordinated effort. He said, people who haven’t qualified for asylum were still in Malta because their country of origin is unknown. “Even if we identify their nationality, their country will probably refuse them. The EU must strengthen its relations with these countries. It is something that must be placed on the agenda.”

Muscat said he was disappointed by some of the EU’s arguments and had expected “a more global and ambitious discussion from the most civilised continent”.

“The refugee crisis is not just a European problem and it doesn’t begin and end with Syria.

He said that the talks have set the scene for the Valletta Summit being held in November.

The European Commission today adopted 40 infringement decisions against several member states for failing to fully implement legislation making up the Common European Asylum System.  Malta was among those notified that it has not yet transposed two directives of 2013 – the Asylum Procedures and Reception Conditions directives.

Muscat said that Malta was in the final stages of transposing one of two directives while the second one was still being discussed and will be submitted to Cabinet soon.

“We agree in principle to the directives but there are some issues that we have to check before signing a legal notice that can’t be transposed correctly,” he said.

Muscat said that during a private talk with Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President had explained that he wanted to see all member states fall into line while sending a political signal.

The European Commission yesterday warned that no member states could just refuse to accept the quota plan after having been agreed to by a qualified majority.

Funds agreed

The European Council agreed the following funds:

·       €100 million more for emergency assistance for the most affected Members States

·       €600 million more for the EU agencies in 2016

·       €200 million more for the World Food Program in 2015

·       €300 million more for humanitarian aid in 2016

·       more funds to stabilise Europe;s immediate neighbourhood: up to €1 billion for Turkey and € 17 million for Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed his disbelief at how some Member States had reduced their contributions to the World Food Programme by up to 99 per cent. “I call on Member States to restore funding for food aid to the World Food Programme to the level of 2014 and to stabilise the supply of food for Syrian refugees. I also call Member States to match the money we have put for the Trust Fund for Syria (€ 500 million) and the Trust Fund for Africa (€ 1.8 billion) with the same amounts,” Juncker told the EU leaders.

Malta will also be contributing financially but Muscat urged reporters not to compare its contribution with that of France or Germany: "We will give our fair share," he said.