Government, Opposition ‘very close’ to consensus on migration

Opposition leader notes ‘change’ in Joseph Muscat’s position on migration, praises 'valid position' • Prime Minister confirms points system for reisdence permits being considered

The government and opposition are “very close” to enjoying a position of consensus on migration, PN leader Simon Busuttil said this evening.

In parliament, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat briefed the House on the recent EU summit on migration and his trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

During the September extraordinary meeting, a split Europe agreed to the relocation of a further 120,000 refugees by a majority vote.  

Both Muscat and Busuttil are satisfied that the European Union finally forced all countries to take on responsibility sharing, even though it referred to a scheme.

According to Muscat, it was not about the figures agreed but about the principle.

“Of course 120,000 are not enough given that there are at least seven million people displaced from one war. But it was a question of principle,” Muscat told Busuttil.

The PN leader, reacting to Muscat’s address, delivered the Opposition’s support for the position taken by the government.

“The positions of both sides are immensely close to each other. I always dreamt of Malta enjoying an element of consensus on matters of migration. It is an important step that both leaders are on the same page,” Busuttil said.

Praising Muscat for “changing his position”, Busuttil said the Prime Minister had taken a valid position, shared by the Opposition.

“He has moved from supporting pushbacks to speaking against building walls on borders,” Busuttil said.

The comment drew a smile on Muscat’s face who was quick to remind Busuttil that it hadn’t been his administration “that implemented a pushback” – Muscat’s failed attempt came in July 2013 when the European Court of Human Rights issued an interim order to block a government pushback of 45 migrants after NGOs filed a prohibitory application.

Agreeing that both sides were finally sharing converging thoughts on migration, Muscat noted that Malta had been amongst the few at EU level to retain its original position. He added that the country had finally achieved what it wanted without threatening with veto; Malta was also showing solidarity by taking in a number of migrants, he insisted.

Both Muscat and Busuttil appear to agree that countries of origin who fail to take back failed asylum seekers should face sanctions by the EU.

“We need a carrot and stick approach,” Muscat insisted. “Those countries who are not ready to do their part should face sanctions. I’m not talking about an embargo but why should the EU allow access to its market when they are not honoring their agreement? Such an option already exists but was never enforced.”

Busuttil said he hoped that the Valletta Summit would be successful, whereby countries of origin and transit agree to their part, “even those countries who have their own needs and I recognize that”.

The Opposition leader also asked whether the Labour administration would be ready to introduce a points system or quotas for the issuance of residence permits.

“The government last year issued 14,000 residence permits, more than the number of migrant arrivals in the past 10 years. Don’t you think it is time to impose a quota on permits?” Busuttil said.

Muscat confirmed that the government was looking into the option of a points system but insisted that the points system and quotas were two different matters.

Muscat added that almost half of the permits issued last year were renewals.