European Commission: ‘Malta behaved according to international rules’ in Aquarius case
EU Commission President Jean Claude Juncker told Prime Minister Joseph Muscat that according to the Commission’s appraisal, Malta behaved according to international rules in the Aquarius case.
The Aquarius, is a rescue ship in the middle of an international dispute after rescuing 629 migrants within Libyan territorial waters, which belongs to NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the SOS Mediterraneee charity. Both Malta and Italy refused it permission to land, with Spain deciding to take in the migrants, who are now on their way to Valencia.
Prime Minister Muscat briefed President Juncker about the bilateral relations with Italy and expressed his hope that these would be normalised. They also discussed the pending Commission proposals on the migration package and the next steps to be taken.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat yesterday also called for greater regulation of NGOs who work to save migrants in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
“The role of NGOs is important and they perform well, especially when intervening when there is a need. However, you cannot have NGOs, as we have seen, advertising that because they are not engaged in any specific mission, anyone who needs help can call them. Ultimately, it is the lives of those out at sea are the most important,” Muscat told The Malta Independent when facing questions from the press.
“We are spending millions of EU taxpayers’ money on the Libyan coast guard for improved training and equipment so they can better manage the situation. If they are not equipped enough, we need to make sure they are.”
Muscat was asked whether the Mediterranean could potentially face a number of diplomatic crises throughout the summer, given Italy's apparent position on the issue and the number of migrants who will attempt to cross the Mediterranean during the season.
He stressed that the number of crossings in the Mediterranean has actually decreased, referencing UNHCR figures which show that boat arrivals have dropped by 70%.
“It is easy to bash the EU, but they have done well. The measures taken, through the Valletta summit, in Chad and Niger are leaving a positive effect.
“There will be problems, there will be issues, and the EU Council will not find a magic solution, but through discussions, we may at least reach a common understanding in following regulations. The criticism taking place is not directed at Malta,” he continued.
“They agree with our position, we followed all international regulations. This all happened because Italy did not follow the rules. We would also like to remind people that Malta has always followed regulations. Malta is one of the few countries who took the full quotas from Italy and Greece, and we have the second highest rate of asylum applications.”
On Spain's intervention, while thankful, Muscat said that, “we cannot rely on gestures, there needs to be a more organised system. If everyone follows the rules, we will all be in a better position.”
The PM also said that any potential changes to the Dublin Regulation were implausible, but stressed it was not due to rising tensions between Italy, France, and Malta, when asked about the upcoming discussions.
“The divided has been mostly between east and west; and the way we envisage migration and migration policy,” Muscat said.
He also noted that the shift in policy by the Italian government needed to be evaluated both locally and on EU level.
“There is still a draft paper between Mediterranean countries in this regard. Officially this has not changed, but in real terms, we have seen a shift,” Muscat said explaining that it was important to wait for official summits to discuss these issues, rather than relying on comments made on social media. Muscat will be meeting his Italian counterpart at the EU Council meeting between 28 and 29 June.
“Our intention is to maintain our good relationship with the Italian government. We hope what has happened is just a blip.”
Malta’s territorial waters not up for grabs
In a statement yesterday evening, the Maltese government also said that Italy’s Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Danilo Toninelli’s claims that Malta cannot patrol its Search and Rescue Region and that unless it does so, Italy will take it over, are wrong.
“Such a statement has no legal and political basis and unfortunately shows that the Minister is either misinformed or wants to stir a useless controversy.
“It must be made clear that Malta fulfils its obligations and abides by all applicable conventions including its obligations within our Search and Rescue Region. In the last years Malta has invested millions in upgrading its equipment and has all the necessary means to coordinate all SAR events inside its area.
“During the past years Malta has never ignored a single case inside Maltese SRR. In addition, the Maltese Government does not receive any funds for the control of its SAR area. SAR is a service rendered by the state without any payments.
“Any funds received were funds related to external border control under EU funds which has nothing to do with SAR. It must also be noted that Italy receives millions from this same fund.
“The Italian Minister’s statements may be interpreted as though this issue has nothing to do with migration but is rather a territorial issue. It is a baseless and frivolous attempt to try to impinge on the sovereignty of a neighbouring country.”
Metsola pushes for new method to help migration crisis: disembarkation locations outside EU
Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola yesterday pushed a novel idea to help improve the European migration crisis in the middle of a discussion on the issue following the Aquarius incident; disembarkation locations outside the European Union.
She was speaking during a European Parliament discussion on 'humanitarian emergencies in the Mediterranean and solidarity in the EU' where MEPs spoke about immediate, mid-term and longterm goals following the Aquarius incident last Monday.
Two days ago, 629 migrants on the Aquarius rescue ship, were stuck in international waters off the coast of Italy and Malta, both of which denied it entry. Spain ended up offering the Aquarius safe harbour. The situation was debated today in European Parliament.
Metsola's medium term proposal consisted of a disembarkation location in 'safe third countries outside the Union.'
“In the medium term we need to think outside the box and look seriously into having EU-run disembarkation locations in safe third countries outside the Union,” she said.
“With EU standards, where anyone saved from the dark sea can be disembarked immediately, rescued, vetted, processed in full recognition of their rights - by EASO for example - and either returned or resettled. We have the money to do it and we must find the will to do it.”
Speaking at the beginning of the plenary, EP President Antonio Tajani emphasised that “this is about the whole of the European Union”.
“The whole of the EU is at risk,” he said. “Single member states will not handle this alone. We need a short, mid and long-term solution.”
Tajani reiterated the short-term plans as stopping migratory flows, the mid-term plans as improving conversation with Libyan government and the long-term plan as increasing the budget and long-term investment in Africa.
“We need a genuine solution for a historical problem,” he said.
‘Salivini is a sign of the racism growing in the EU' Italian MEP
Many Italian MEPs who were present at the discussion defended Interior Minister Matteo Salivini's decision not to allow the boat to harbour in Italy.
“Let's not have double standards,” said MEP Ignazio Carrao from Movimento 5 Stelle. “Italy has been left alone by other member states and had to address a continent that is on the move.”
MEP Mara Bizzotto added that “Italy has been tricked on immigration for so many years.”
MEP Laura Ferrara stated that the Aquarius incident shows that Italy “has been left to its own devices.”
MEP Barbara Spinelli commented that Malta is “not involved in the SAR reforms and does not seem to be fulfilling its obligations.”
However, MEP ELeonora Forenza Lista Tsipras from L'Altra Europa, in an impassioned speech, claimed that 'Salvini is a sign of racism that is growing in the European Union.'