Europe hatches plan for migrant reception centres outside the bloc

EU divided on migration: There is little hope that a mini-summit convened by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels today, will produce tangible results

Albania and Montenegro could be asked to host processing centres for migrants rescued at sea, as part of an EU plan to bridge deep divisions in the bloc.

The proposal is one of several that are doing the rounds in EU capitals as diplomats intensify efforts to find solutions ahead of the European Council summit at the end of the month.

But there is little hope that a mini-summit convened by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels today, will produce tangible results.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is attending the mini-summit, which is being held in the shadow of an ongoing dispute between Italy and Malta over migrant rescues in the Mediterranean.

But this is not the only problem. Over the past few days, migration has led to Italy and France trading insults and Angela Merkel’s coalition government in Germany teetering on collapse.

In an opinion piece appearing today, Muscat hopes that “facetime between leaders, away from tweets, formal communication or phone calls, will help achieve progress”.

He argues that Europe’s very foundations are being tested by the migration challenge.

Although migrant arrivals from the central Mediterranean route have seen a year-on-year drop of 78%, this is not enough, he says.

Muscat outlines Malta’s position in favour of a European solution with humanitarian and security facets. “Removing one element from the other might be ideologically enticing but practically equates to inertia,” he warns.

Read more: Too little Europe causing uncertain times - Joseph Muscat

The mini-summit was called at Germany’s behest in an attempt to produce a working document ahead of the European Council, something that appears increasingly unlikely.

Diplomats have been scrambling to find some form of common position, as mainstream political parties across the EU come under pressure from uneasy electorates.

A bigger problem that has developed over recent days is Merkel’s internal opposition from the Bavarian CSU, a long-time partner of the Chancellor’s Christian Democrat party, which wants a tougher stand on migration.

While Germany has tried pushing for a solution that tackles the movement between EU member states of migrants already enjoying protection, Italy is refusing to play ball unless a solution is found on migrants who are rescued at sea.

Italy has been facing the brunt of migrant arrivals, mostly from Libya, and its new coalition government that includes the anti-immigrant Lega, has adopted a hard-line stand by closing the country’s ports to migrant rescue ships run by non-governmental organisations.

On two occasions Italy has insisted Malta take in migrants rescued by ships operated by NGOs.

In an ongoing dispute since Friday, Italy has been insisting that the MV Lifeline, an NGO vessel, disembark 230 rescued migrants in Malta.

Malta has refused, insisting Italy’s actions are in breach of international law.

Within this tense atmosphere, it remains unclear whether the proposal to offload part of the problem onto safe non-EU countries will gain traction.

Floated by European Council President Donald Tusk, the plan seeks to create regional disembarkation platforms in neighbouring countries like Albania, Montenegro, Egypt and Tunisia.

Tunisia has already poured cold water on the idea but some European diplomats argue that Albania and Montenegro could be swayed into accepting these EU-run reception centres in exchange for the start of accession talks.

Read more: If need be, Dublin rule changes should be made without unanimity - Roberta Metsola

Migrants arriving in these centres will be processed there by the EU asylum agency and only those granted some form of protection will be transferred to EU countries.

However, the matter appears to have been complicated late last week when the Dutch Parliament voted to block the start of accession talks with Albania over concerns on rule of law in the Balkan country.

On Friday, Amnesty International, a human rights organisation, criticised the draft plan, describing it as “irresponsible and dangerous”.

“There is an urgent need for a new asylum system that is fair, efficient and compassionate,” Amnesty said.

EU leaders were expected to discuss a reform of the Dublin regulations to ensure that migrants eligible for protection do not remain the sole responsibility of the State in which their claim is processed.

However, there is no hope for reforming the Dublin rules at the European Council at the end of this week, as member states remain strongly divided on the matter.

Nationalist Party MEP Roberta Metsola, in an opinion piece appearing today, says EU prime ministers have a unique opportunity to reform the Dublin system. This can be achieved even without unanimity in the Council, she insists.

“The European Parliament has put legislation on their table that ensures a fair sharing of responsibility based on solidarity between States and with the most vulnerable,” she says.

Metsola also argues for a medium-term solution to create EU-run and EU-funded disembarkation locations in safe countries outside the bloc where migrants saved at sea can be disembarked immediately, security vetted and processed accordingly.

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