French and Italian leaders to meet today amid clash over migration
The French president’s office has confirmed the visit to France of Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron today.
The Élysée said in a statement yesterday that Macron and Conte had spoken by phone on Wednesday amid an escalating clash between the two countries over migration.
Italy demanded an apology after the French president accused the new Italian government of irresponsible behaviour for refusing entry to a rescue ship with 629 migrants aboard.
Macron said he “had not made any comment intended to offend Italy and the Italian people,” the statement said.
Both leaders discussed the situation of the ship Aquarius and agreed on France and Italy’s commitment to organise emergency aid under humanitarian rules to assist people in danger, according to the French presidency. Germany.
Austria’s conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who since December has led a coalition government with the anti-migration Freedom Party, proposed the idea on Wednesday of an “axis of the willing” — made up of Rome, Vienna and Berlin — to cooperate in tackling illegal immigration.
Salvini has accused European aid groups of essentially operating taxi services for Libyabased human traffickers and said Italy will now refuse their rescue ships entry.
Italian maritime vessels that have picked up Europe-bound migrants in the Mediterranean still are entering the ports; on Wednesday, an Italian coast guard vessel docked in Catania, Sicily with 932 migrants on board.
Italy’s argument with France came after Macron on Tuesday blasted what he called Italy’s cynicism and irresponsibility in turning away the Aquarius. The French president’s office said France didn’t want to “start a precedent” that would allow some European countries to breach international laws and rely on other EU member states to take in migrants.
The French government was more conciliatory on Wednesday, when the foreign ministry said that France recognised the burden Italy has carried.
Macron and new Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte were scheduled to meet in Paris today, but Italian news agency ANSA said on Wednesday the meeting might be postponed because the conditions weren’t right. Conte’s office refused to confirm the report.
Earlier in the day, the Italian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the French ambassador to complain that the French comments about the Aquarius were “unacceptable.”
It added that Italy was waiting for the French to take action to “heal the situation that has been created.” Under the EU’s asylum laws – currently the subject of a major political dispute and under revision – migrants must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter Europe. In practice, the policy has placed a heavy burden on Italy and Greece, where hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers have arrived in recent years.
A boat loaded with 55 people who were thought to be Syrian refugees landed om Wednesday on the northwest coast of Cyprus, a Mediterranean island split into ethnically Greek and Turkish sides. A police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly, told the Associated Press there were 54 men and one woman aboard the boat.
The UN refugee agency has said that approximately 1,900 migrants have arrived in Cyprus in about 40 boat trips since 2015.