MEPs trade barbs as European Parliament holds emergency debate on Mediterranean migration

They urged the European Council to amend the Dublin regulations to ensure better sharing of responsibilities while stressing the EU needed to ensure shared responsibility or risk feeding populist narratives

MEPs urged the European Council to revise the Dublin regulations in order to ensure the distriubtion of burden among member states
MEPs urged the European Council to revise the Dublin regulations in order to ensure the distriubtion of burden among member states

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voiced their frustration at the European Council over its reluctance to reform the Dublin regulations on processing refugee applications.

A majority of MEPs who spoke during the debate noted that arrivals had decreased to their lowest level since 2013, but stressed that Mediterranean countries like Malta, Italy and Greece could no longer be left to their own devices to deal with the phenomenon of mass migration.

While many critcised Italian Home Affairs minister Matteo Salvini, over the position adopted by the Italian government over the MV Aquarius, others also pointed out that Italy had done its fair share over the years, and was continuing to do so up until today, when some 900 migrants disembarked in Sicily.

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola said the problems posed by migration were not new and said it was frustrating to see that the parliament was capable of passing legislation in other areas but not migration, an area she said “Prime Ministers are stuck” in.

She urged the European council to leave “no space for more raised fists and banging on tables” and “more lives used to prop up the wannabe strongmen of Europe”.

In the immediate term, Metsola said the Council needed to reform the Dublin system to one that balances responsibility with solidarity.

Read more: Revision of Dublin rules on migration not plausible at next EU summit, Joseph Muscat says

She said the EU needed to ensure that its borders were secure and that coastguards had all the resources needed to operate effectively.

In the medium and long term, Metsola stressed that the EU needed to find ways of having disembarkation locations in safe third countries, where EU standards are adopted and where people who are saved can be processed in full recognition of their rights.

“In the long term we must move from aid to investment in Africa that creates jobs and hope,” Metsola said.

Labour MEP Miriam Dalli questioned what the council and European governments were waiting for to take collective action on migration, and to prevent some member states from getting away with doing nothing.

“Some mentioned Malta as though it is not doing anything. Malta has always adhered to its international obligations,” said Dalli, adding that all of the country’s assets were dedicated to dealing with migration, and that Malta had the second largest number of refugee in Europe per 1000 individuals.

She said that the European Parliament has had a solution for centralized system for years and urged European leaders to take action as quickly as possible.

Nationalist MEP David Casa said tragedies like that of the Aquarius were leaving causing divisions between allies like Malta and Italy.

“It bothers me to hear MPs from Italy saying things that don’t help us come together to fight the battle in the EU against those who are not contributing to a solution to the problem,” Casa said. “I agree with you, there are countries in the EU that have done nothing to help Italy or Malta.”

Casa also called for the Dublin regulation - which he said needed to ensure that the burden of migration was shared by all countries - to be amended.

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani said that situations like that of the Aquarius could not be solved by member states alone, nor could they be resolved through disputes between member states.

Home Affairs commissioner Dimitris Avarmopolous said he agreed with Tajani and pointed out that Europe could not look the other way, especially after three years of success in managing migrant flows.

“What matters most is that people in a desperate situation were saved and helped,” he said. “I will not enter into any blame game today. Everyone must take their responsibilities and play their role in solidarity.”

He commended the decision by the government of Spain to unblock the dispute between Malta and Italy by taking in the rescue vessel. He also thanked Italy and other member states for upholding European values. “Just remember where we were three years ago and where we are today. We should never forget the efforts these member states have made.”

Avaramopolous underscored the importance of the EU’s efforts in countries of transit, before migrants get on boats, as well as training the Libyan coast guard which he said had already rescued 16,000 migrants from within the countries search and rescue area since the signing of the Malta declaration last year.

Furthermore, he said that the EU was increasing its budget for dealing with its borders, increasing it from €17 billion in the previous period to €34.9 billion this time round.

Many MEPs who spoke accused the council of dragging its feet in taking decisive action and feeding populists’ narratives by doing so.

Read more: Metsola calls on European leaders to reform Dublin System

Others said it was embarrassing and hypocritical to be speaking about solidarity among member states when there were some countries that had their armies patrolling their borders.

Philippe Lamberts from the Greens-European Free Alliance lambasted Salvini for engaging in “political blackmail and electioneering” using migrants’ lives, while calling out countries like Austria, Hungary and France, who he said were propagating the “fortress Europe” mentality.

He also questioned the effectiveness of the EU “outsourcing” its solution to the migration problem by “allowing dictators turn their countries into open-air prisons”.

Italian MEPs voiced opinions that differed according to their political leaning. Some condemned Salvini’s actions, and praised mayors of port cities such as Palermo, which offered to take the vessel in, despite the government’s position.

Others criticised Malta for not doing its part, but a significant number were critical of France, which they accused of hypocrisy over its condemnation of Italy while keeping the border between the two countries closed

“France started off the war in Libya for fuel and we are living with the consequences,” said Lega MEP Mara Bizzotto.

More in Europe