‘Europe finally discussing solutions’, Muscat says on EU migration plan

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says EU proposal to save lives, target smugglers, and lay down binding quotas for resettlement is ‘most ambitious plan ever presented’

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (Photo: Reuben Piscopo/DOI)
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (Photo: Reuben Piscopo/DOI)

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has described a plan by the European Commission to tackle irregular migration as its “most ambitious plan” yet.

The European Commission tomorrow unveils its European Agenda for Migration, expected to include politically sensitive proposals on possible binding rules to distribute asylum seekers and refugees among member states.

MaltaToday has details of the plan from a draft copy it has seen.

The Prime Minister is currently in Doha, Qatar.

While EU leaders had largely sidelined the matter during last month’s emergency summit, it now appears that the proposal – mostly pushed by Commission President Jean Claude Juncker – is  back on the table in an effort to help ease pressure member states largely hit by the migration crisis.

“The EU needs a permanent system for sharing the responsibility for large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers among member states,” the leaked draft document reads.

The proposal still faces opposition, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban describing the plan as “mad and unfair”.

The leaked Commission text proposes member states to resettle around 20,000 new refugees every year.

For the first time, the system will share responsibility for “mass influxes” of non-EU migrants among the 28 member states during times of “emergency”, as decided by the Commission.

“We have to wait and see the outcome but definitely it will be a heated discussion,” Muscat said. 

“The EU is finally attempting a comprehensive solution to some sort of redistribution. There are quite a number of countries rooting for it, including Germany and I believe that the French attitude is moderately positive. I am not putting up expectations, but the positive thing this time round is that we are finally discussing solutions.”

On Monday, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini sought the help of the United Nations for “saving migrants’ lives” and approval for the EU’s plan to use force against people smugglers. But a military operation to inspect and possibly destroy traffickers’ boats has raised concern on how the operation would distinguish between smugglers’ boats and fishing boats.

“It is not only a humanitarian emergency, but also a security crisis since smuggling networks are linked to and in some cases finance terrorist activities, which contributes to instability in a region that is already unstable enough,” Mogherini said.

The Prime Minister, one of the first to support the plan, said he had no doubt that military forces were equipped with the latest technology and the necessary intelligence to know what’s going on in the seas.

Muscat said it was a very positive step that the High Representative addressed the UN Security Council, “something which doesn’t happen very often”, sending a strong signal about the EU’s position.

Muscat said the fact that there were technical discussions on whether the use of the United Nation’s Chapter 7 would be enough or whether there should be some sort of written agreement by the Libyan authorities – as proposed by Mogherini – on an intervention, the information at the government’s disposal was that there was “a clear game plan” and the situation appears to be in hand.

But while there’s rising concern over the possibility that Russia may veto the EU strikes, Muscat said that while “things are not straightforward, there appears to be willingness for a solution to be found.”

He added that Russia may not necessarily be the most “problematic” country, and that he was equally confident on Libya’s position, despite the fact that the main political forces in the North African country are against a military action targeting smugglers’ boats.

“I think we are close to a solution and there is more than meets eye [in Libya]. The feedback I have is that things are actually moving now,” he said.

A report by Amnesty International however calls for alternative solutions, arguing that migrants and refugees could be trapped in Libya and exposed to serious human rights abuses.

“There is no one solution and targeting the boats is part of a wider plan ... Lives are being saved but is it enough? The destruction of smuggler boats can work,” Muscat argued, pointing out that the shortages of boats in Libya has currently led to a slowdown in migrant crossings. 

“Targeting the supply [the boats] does hinder the criminals who are behind the trafficking. Is it a solution on its own? It’s not, just as it’s not a solution on its own having rescue missions.”

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