Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi plans to use Italy’s six months in the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union to push the EU to take more responsibility for the tens of thousands of illegal migrants who are pouring into his country from Libya.
“It is unacceptable that a boat filled with children is allowed to sink only because it is not clear who’s responsible for it. In these very hours, there are record numbers of women, men and children arriving on our shores, 96 per cent from Libya,” Renzi said on Friday at an opening ceremony for the presidency in Rome.
He called for an EU-wide policy on irregular migration, saying that the Mediterranean “is not Italy’s sea, it is Europe’s border. Or, as I would prefer to call it, its heart.”
Mare Nostrum (“Our Sea”), an Italian-led operation to rescue migrants from the rubber dinghies and over-loaded fishing boats in which they attempt the dangerous crossing, is costing €6m to €9m (£4.7m to £7.1m) a month. Vice Admiral Filippo Maria Foffi, the commander in chief of the Italian fleet, said this cannot be financed exclusively by Italy.
Some right-wing politicians want the operation abolished. In April, Matteo Salvini, leader of the opposition right-wing Northern League party, said Mare Nostrum was encouraging the exodus. According to the Financial Times, his call was backed by some senior members of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. One senator said the operation had become a “taxi service” for migrants and that Italy was in effect assisting the “merchants of death” who profit from human trafficking.
Renzi wants to reinforce Frontex, the EU’s frontier agency that is meant to coordinate border management at external EU borders. While border security is a matter for individual countries, Renzi wants to see a more powerful, more active “Frontex Plus,” with millions more funding added to its €89m (£70m) budget.
At the same opening ceremony in Rome, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission supported Renzi’s claim to increase the budget and power of the EU border agency. He said: “Frontex needs more means…the Commission had long sought greater cooperation on irregular migration since the phenomenon was a European issue and not an issue of only the frontier EU states such as Malta and Italy or Greece and Spain.”
But as Euractiv points out: “The real obstacle to a concerted action and burden-sharing is not Brussels, but rather national governments.”
Other member states argue they are dealing proportionately with more asylum seekers and immigrants than Italy. In the last three months of 2013, Germany received proportionally three times as many applications for asylum than Italy.