Italian leadership learning that persuasion, not bullying leads to European solidarity – Muscat

Tweeting and raising your voice is not how you find solutions, the Prime Minister said


Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that a common sense approach was essential to dealing with migration
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that a common sense approach was essential to dealing with migration

The last week’s events have shown Italy that complex issues can’t be solved using threats and bullying, but required persuasion and political solutions, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Sunday

Speaking during an interview on ONE, Muscat referred to a number of migrants that have been left stranded on an Italian coast guard vessel just off the coast of Sicily.

The migrants were intercepted in international waters last week by the coast guard but they have not been allowed to disembark, with Italy insisting that the European Commission intervene to relocate the migrants.

Italy’s deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said Italy would withhold EU funds if other countries did not take the migrants, with a spokesperson for the Commission replying by insisting that “unconstructive comments, let alone threats, are not helpful, and will not get us closer to a solution”.

The Commission said it would continue to follow rules governing migration.

“The lesson to be learnt from all of this is that it isn’t words, or the size of a country that brings about solutions, nor is it simply tweeting and raising your voice. Solutions are found through persuasion,” Muscat said, adding that through its actions, Italy was driving itself into a corner. 

He said that Malta had, in cases that were “far more complex”, managed to find political solutions and solidarity, even though it was not Malta’s responsibility to do so.

“When it is our responsibility however we don’t make a big deal about it,” he said, adding that the Armed Forces of Malta had rescued 100 migrants who were in danger of dying in Malta’s search and rescue area this week. 

He dismissed those that believed that people should be left to drown, while noting that, beyond a moral obligation to intervene, the country also had legal obligations to adhere to.

Both the Aquarius and Lifeline cases, he said, were far more complex that the current situation that has developed on board the Italian coast guard’s vessel, and showed how the European Union could be convinced to share the burden among different states. “We did this in a matter of hours or days.”

The Prime Minister pointed out that he will be receiving the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babiš to discuss migration. “We are miles apart in our views on the subject, but this will not stop us from meeting and discussing the matter.”

Turning to criticism levelled at the government over the fact that it is preventing a number of humanitarian vessels to operate, Muscat said that a situation were international rules were not respected could not be tolerated. “We can’t have people going into Libyan waters and acting as though it’s a race against time to stop the Libyan coast guard from doing its job.”

He acknowledged that the Libyan coast guard wasn’t “the best”, but stressed that the EU was investing millions in improving its operations and that it should therefore be allowed to do its job.

Building a wall is not an option

Muscat said that calls for Malta to adopt a position similar to that of many eastern European countries did not make sense, especially when one considered that Malta was an island. “There is no technology that allows us to put up walls in the sea”

Furthermore, he said that in instances where someone is drowning, the bottom line is that a decision had to be made on whether to let people drown or not.

On the other hand, he said that those calling for the adoption on a ‘No way’ border control policy like Australia’s was not feasible.

“Those who say this either have no idea how things work or is trying to be deceitful,” he said, adding that this policy was based on concepts that did not apply to the Mediterranean. 

Like Australia, he said the EU had no problem repatriating migrants that did not originate from a country where there was no conflict, but again stressed that one could not turn back people in need of asylum. 

Another difference was that Australia had reached an agreement with Papua New Guinea, which it paid “millions” to host these people.

While it finding such a country outside the EU would be an ideal scenario, Muscat said it was important for Europe to consider its approach on such an issue.

“Sometimes we European can have a false sense of superiority that leads us to believe that we are the only ones that have a strong public opinion,” Muscat said. “If you go to a huge country like Egypt there is a very strong public opinion that has even led to two revolutions”

The same went for Tunisia, he said. “We must convince these countries to do their work on help us.”

Like Australia pays Papua New Guinea to host refugees, Muscat said that third countries that could help in addressing migration could be granted access to European markets.

“Then you would have to see if big European commercial lobbies are willing to give access to the EU’s markets, but this is the context within which we must speak,” he said. “We need a common sense approach, not a free for all but a disciplined and humanitarian one.”

Small but significant social measure

Asked to comment on the fact that adoption grants for families were starting to be distributed, Muscat said that the measure was one he was proudest of.

He said the grant showed that the government was in favour of there being more families, and went hand in hand with reforms to the country’s IVF laws.

“Despite all that was said, the world has not stopped turning,” Muscat said.

He said that he was happy that more people could become parents because of the technology, adding that those that still could not conceive needed to be helped with the expenses associated with adopting children from abroad.

Muscat stressed that €10,000 was not enough to cover all the associated costs, but it was a gesture that helped.

Turning to government’s pledge to introduce free school transport for all school children during the next scholastic year, Muscat said that the measure would affect thousands of families and would also leave an effect on traffic congestion.

Muscat explained that after announcing plans for the service in February work had continued and was now in the final stages.

As regards state schools, Muscat said that the system would remain the same, with operators being given a better contract for them to improve their service.

A pilot project for the supervision of children would also be starting in the coming scholastic year.

With church and independent schools, Muscat stressed that the system was more complicated, given that unlike with state schools, children were collected from their home rather than a central location.

He said that the way the system would likely work is that all current arrangements between parents, schools and drivers would be retained, with the government reimbursing parents.

The government, he said, was awaiting a final confirmation from operators, who would retain the previous scholastic year’s rates, along with a 5% increase.

More in National