Updated | Migration summit: Joseph Muscat sees willingness among European leaders to go for ‘operational change’

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says informal summit on migration achieved 'some progress' as meeting was better than expected • Italy warns border-free travel at risk if no solution on migration is found

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker at today's informal meeting in Brussels
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker at today's informal meeting in Brussels

Updated at 9pm with PM statement after summit

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said that it appeared to him that there was willingness among European leaders to make operational changes in addressing migration in the Mediterranean.

Speaking following an informal summit of European leaders in Brussels, Muscat described the meeting as one that was better than expected and which had achieved “some progress”.

He said that all leaders spoke their mind in a clear manner, and that the meeting had served the purpose of allow for a better understanding of each other’s position ahead of next week’s EU council summit.

Muscat said he was against Europe again going “in the direction of high-level declarations”, insisting it was now time for “operational action”.

“There are people at sea right now; we are in a situation where if we don’t take decisions within the coming days, the situation will escalate. What I heard today; what I think we converged on today, is the signal that there is probably a willingness to go for some operational changes.”

European leaders will be hoping to make some progress during today's meeting ahead of an EU Council summit next week
European leaders will be hoping to make some progress during today's meeting ahead of an EU Council summit next week

At the summit, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned that EU border-free travel could be in danger if no solution is found to the issue of migration.

Conte called for shared EU responsibility for rescued migrants and penalties for countries refusing to accept quotas.

The meeting came ahead of a full EU summit on migration later this week.

Earlier

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has urged his European counterparts to keep an open mind and to work constructively towards a “multifaceted” solution to the migration situation in the Mediterranean.

Muscat was addressing journalists before walking in to an informal summit on migration convened by Commission president Jean Claude Juncker, ahead of next week’s EU council summit.

“We are coming into this meeting with an open mind,” Muscat said. “We do hope that everyone around the table will adopt the same attitude. It’s obvious that the situation is extremely precarious.”

The Prime Minister said that Malta had first-hand experience of the migration phenomenon in the Mediterranean and insisted it was “not the time for finger-pointing”.

READ MORE: Europe hatches plan for migrant reception centres outside the bloc

“I do feel that people are looking at us for solutions,” he continued, stressing that the usual rhetoric would not be good enough. “We need to come up with concrete solutions. We will make some proposals of our own and we do hope everyone will be willing to listen.”

Muscat added that he did not believe that there was only one solution to the migration problem but "building a wall on high seas" was not one of them.

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.

Tensions over migration in the Mediterranean have been running high in recent weeks, as Italy’s new government has changed the country’s policy on migration.

READ MORE: Too little Europe causing uncertain times - Joseph Muscat

Earlier this month, Italian Home Affairs minister Matteo Salvini ordered of all of Italy’s ports closed to the MV Aquarius, a rescue vessel that was carrying 629 migrants rescued within the Libyan search and rescue area.

Salvini insisted that Malta should take the migrants, resulting in a diplomatic standoff between the two countries that was only resolved after Spain stepped in and agreed to take the migrants.

On Friday, Salivini again insisted that Italy would not allow a rescue vessel, this time the MV Lifeline, to dock in Italy, once again claiming the vessel was Malta’s responsibility, a claim Malta has maintained is factually incorrect.

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