Germany, France, Italy and Malta agreed Monday on a redistribution mechanism for migrants rescued in the Central Mediterranean, but the proposal still needs wider European Union agreement.
Maltese Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia said he and his German, French and Italian counterparts have reached an ‘agreement on a common paper’ to be presented as the basis for discussions at an October 8 meeting of EU interior ministers.
There was little initial information on the specifics of the deal.
Interior ministers from the four countries met in the Maltese town of Vittoriosa along with Finnish counterpart Maria Ohisalo, who represented the EU presidency, and EU Migration Commissioner Dimistri Avramopoulos.
Ohisalo said the deal reached Monday is ‘limited in time’ and focuses on migrants rescued at sea, while Avramopoulos urged ‘all member states’ to back the proposed redistribution mechanism and ‘participate in solidarity efforts.’
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who previously said Germany would be willing to take one quarter of migrants rescued at sea, said the quota of migrants to be taken in by each country had yet to be fixed.
He said it depended on how many other EU nations would take part in redistribution efforts.
The basic idea is that a coalition of the willing among EU countries should agree that migrants who arrive in Italy and Malta should be automatically and quickly redistributed elsewhere in the EU, without arguments or drama.
At the Monday talks there were several open issues, including where migrant rescue vessels should be made to dock, how long it should take for them to be transferred to other EU nations, and exactly what kinds of migrants should be covered by the agreement.
Notably, Italy and Malta wanted the deal to cover so-called economic migrants, or migrants with little chance of winning asylum, as well as genuine asylum seekers. Economic migrants make up the overwhelming majority of the people who cross over from North Africa.
There was also the question of whether EU-wide redistribution should take place only for migrants intercepted at sea by NGO, navy or coastguard units, or also for those who make it to European shores on their own.
Over the past months, migrants rescued by charity vessels have been left waiting at sea for days and weeks because Italy and Malta refused to take them in until other EU nations agreed to take a quota of the incoming migrants.
This resulted in rows - usually fuelled by Italy's far-right leader and anti-migrant former interior minister Matteo Salvini - and hastily arranged burden-sharing deals brokered by the European Commission.
Italy now has a more pro-EU government which has stopped refusing entry to migrant vessels, while Salvini has been sidelined into opposition. Seehofer and others see this as a window of opportunity to end intra-EU rows on migration.
Seehofer previously said Germany would be willing to take one quarter of migrants rescued at sea as part of a ‘flexible solidarity’ deal that would not necessarily include all 27 members of the EU (excluding Britain). France is expected to offer a similar amount.
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