The vice president of the EU Commission Margaritis Schinas: without an EU agreement on the new Pact for migration and asylum we are forced to operate as firefighters. “Europe cannot be accused of not helping and not contributing to a European solution”
“We can no longer manage migration on an urgent basis, going from crisis to crisis, we must break this working model and operate within the framework of common European solutions structured and sanctioned by EU law: the definitive solution is represented by our proposals contained in the Covenant for migration and asylum», presented in September 2020. Speak up Margaritis Schinas, vice president of the EU Commission in charge of promoting the European way of life, which also includes migration. “Until we have this great agreement – he explains – we will be forced to operate as firefighters”. Schinas will speak today in the plenary of the EU Parliament, together with the Commissioner for Internal Affairs Ylva Johansson, on the need for a European solution to asylum and migration, including search and rescue at sea.
What’s new in the action plan for the central Mediterranean that you presented last Monday?
“It is further proof of our ability to manage crises. To avoid our Member States arguing publicly about migration, we try to help them find a way out, but this in itself is not a permanent solution. The final solution is only in the Pact. The novelty of this action plan, which we will discuss with ministers on Friday, is that it is not just about search and rescue, it is not just about the situation at sea. It covers what happens before ships are near Europe, thanks to many strong partnerships with international organizations and countries of origin and transit, and also covers what happens after these people are rescued at sea with the solidarity mechanism. This is the added value».
Why did you bring it up just now?
“Because the Ocean Viking affair it has created a European crisis and brought two of our Member States into confrontation about something that normally has to be solved differently. Under international law, the responsibility rests with the country in whose territorial waters the vessel is located. Italy refused to fully comply and sent the ship to France creating this situation to have a European solution. Imagine what would have happened if the French hadn’t accepted too. Now we need to defuse this mini-crisis and find practical solutions that help both Italy to manage this process and France, which has had to accept the consequences”.
How does the plan relate to the Pact for migration and asylum under discussion from 2020?
“Once we get EU agreement on the pact, we will have a holistic and comprehensive solution, covering all aspects of immigration and asylum management. But above all it will be based on EU law, it will be part of EU legislation. It will be legally binding, it will be mandatory for everyone, so it won’t be an à la carte method or optional or voluntary as it is now, that’s the main difference.
What reading does it give tensions between Rome and Paris?
«It is not my role to give a political judgment from Brussels. The only thing I can say is that the Italian government is a new government. And I believe that the Ocean Viking crisis has been a pedagogical experience, all the governments of our member states are well aware that they have more to gain by working with Brussels and their partners rather than against them».
Italy complains that it has been left alone and that the solidarity mechanism for relocation is not working.
“You can’t blame him Europe not to help and, at the same time, not contributing to a European solution which would be the ultimate aid. Many of the problems that countries of first entry are facing are due precisely to the lack of legal instruments. When the Pact is in place we will have fewer departures from countries of origin and transit. The problems that we are facing now are the problems of the cost of not having enough Europe and not only in the central Mediterranean, also in the Balkans and in the eastern Mediterranean».
The plan speaks of discussion within the International Maritime Organization on the need for a framework of rules and guidelines for ships. How long will that take?
«For us, the role of NGOs is not a taboo subject. This is why we have included in the plan that the NGOs operating in the Mediterranean must operate in agreement with the EU countries and according to rules and procedures that do not aggravate the problem. Compared to choosing a change in international law, which is a very cumbersome, difficult procedure, this idea of having a code of conduct and very targeted measures is something relatively easy. I think that NGOs also have an interest in respecting this code of conduct”.
What do you expect from Friday’s Extraordinary Home Affairs Council?
«We took the initiative to convene this extraordinary Council, asking the Czech presidency to do so, because we believe that what happened around the Ocean Viking is something that concerns Europe and should be discussed at 27 not two. Both France and Italy have called for a European solution. This action plan does not concern only the two or five central Mediterranean countries, but all 27. We do not expect decisions. But we clearly accept the political ownership of these 20 actions that we are presenting».
Why Member States fail to agree on migration management at EU level? The Juncker Commission proposal was withdrawn and the new Pact for Migration and Asylum has been under negotiation for two years.
“The reason why there was no first-time deal under the Juncker Commission is that the wounds of 2015-2016, from the wave of migration from Syria, were very recent: at the time, an ad hoc decision was made for the relocation to qualified majority that was legally fine and held up, but politically it was toxic, because these issues cannot be decided in this way. This is why the proposal failed. On the new pact – I am very proud to be the father of the September 2020 proposals – the main problem we had that prevented the agreement was the pandemic. This is a face-to-face type of negotiation. Entering post-pandemic mode, things are changing. For the first time there has been convergence on two and a half elements of the package. The French presidency produced this solidarity mechanism as a first step towards the final solidarity mechanism and the European Parliament signed a roadmap for an agreement with the Council. I am therefore confident and hopeful that we will have this great European agreement by the end of this term. The story of the Ocean Viking, what is happening in the central and eastern Mediterranean, everything tells us that we must do it now».
Changing the subject, don’t you think that this in Qatar is the World Cup of hypocrisy?
Fifa banned seven captains from wearing the armband with the word One Love.
“When I took on the portfolio of promoting the European way of life, one of the things we all agreed on was that the European way of life is something we should promote, defend but not impose on others: we are not Trump. The European Union will never be, we cannot impose but we can inspire others to follow us. So in the World Cup our role is to inspire change. I have been to Qatar and met the presidents of the European national football federations and they all agree with this approach. So instead of just saying that Fifa didn’t allow armbands we should also say that Fifa was forced by the Europeans to have a similar armband on equality. This is a European success: European football has forced Fifa to do something it otherwise would not have done. Another European success is that we forced Qatar, before the World Cup, to abolish the so-called Kafala and to reform the labor laws. And now we want these reforms to survive even after the World Cup».
November 22, 2022 (change November 22, 2022 | 23:36)
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Immigration, Schinas: “The Ocean Viking case was pedagogical for Italy”