Berlin (CNSNews.com) – Buoyed by Italy’s recent change of government, interior ministers from five European Union countries outlined on Monday a proposal to reduce the burden on southern member-states by distributing migrants arriving across the Mediterranean among other members who volunteer to take them.
The news may provide relief for Italy and Malta, which have been at odds with others in the bloc over their refusal to allow migrant rescue ships to dock.
“From today, Italy and Malta are not alone. There is a recognition that these two countries represent the gateway to Europe,” Italy’s newly-appointed interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese, said following the meeting.
Full details of the plan have not been disclosed, but Lamorgese said the idea is for migrants rescued at sea to be allocated, within four weeks of arrival, to various countries in the E.U. which would then handle their asylum requests.
Prior to the meeting, France and Germany had said they were willing to take on 25 percent each of migrants and asylum-seekers rescued at sea.
The plan will be presented to interior ministers from all 28 E.U. nations when they meet in Luxembourg on October 8.
“We have started to make history, but it all depends on the support of all or most of the other E.U. countries in accepting to participate in the disembarkation and distribution of migrants,” said Maltese Interior Minister Michael Farrugia.
But Spain’s acting interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, criticized the proposal, saying the solution should not focus on just the Central Mediterranean. Spain and Greece, where migrant arrival number have been spiking in recent months, are not covered by Monday’s proposed agreement.
Grande-Marlaska told Spanish media that the E.U.’s response must apply to “the entire Mediterranean.”
In Greece, a migrant reception camp on the Aegean Sea is dealing with the largest influx of arrivals since the crisis began four years ago. Officials told the Associated Press on Friday the camp is now housing more than 12,000 people, four times its capacity.
The U.N. migration agency says that more than 63,000 migrants and asylum-seekers have entered Europe by sea this year, with half of that number arriving in the last nine weeks alone. It said that four out of five were entering Europe through Greece or Spain.
Relocating asylum-seekers is normally difficult under the E.U.’s current “Dublin rules” which require them to remain in the first country of arrival (unless case-by-case deals can be struck between countries). E.U. members along the Mediterranean coast, such as Greece, Italy and Malta, have complained it creates an unfair burden.
Reform proposals have been under discussion since 2015, with strong resistance coming from eastern members, in particular Hungary and Poland, which refuse to take in asylum-seekers.
Tensions over the Central Mediterranean, considered the world’s deadliest migration route, came to a head last year when Italy’s euroskeptic coalition government, in a move spearheaded by then-Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, introduced laws blocking the country’s ports to migrant rescue ships, and threatening the non-governmental organizations operating the vessels with fines of up to a million euros ($1.1 million).
Italy had previously had an agreement to take in migrants who landed in Malta, but Salvini withdrew from the deal, and Malta, too, closed its ports to NGO ships.
Signs of a new plan first emerged when E.U. foreign and interior ministers met in Paris in July, and 15 countries reportedly agreed to the idea of a voluntary redistribution system.
Italy did not attend that meeting, with Salvini boycotting in protest.
However, Italy’s government then collapsed after its prime minister resigned over problems with Salvini. In its place has emerged a new, less euroskeptic coalition, which in turn prompted Malta to organize Monday’s meeting.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer last week called Salvini’s removal the start of a “new era.”
“The new Italian government represents a great opportunity for Europe to create a concept when it comes to migration – in this case, rescued migrants,” he said. “It would be a major mistake for the German government to miss such an opportunity.”