More EU solidarity needed over migration, says Minister

European Union – Migration – Interview given by Mme Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, to France 2 (excerpts)

Paris, 25 June 2018

EU/Italy/migration

Q. – Let’s start with a practical case: it’s [a boat] called the Lifeline, with 230 people on board off the Mediterranean coast. Italy has said no, Malta has said no; what is France saying?

THE MINISTER – France is drawing attention to international law: when you have a boat and you carry out a rescue at sea – as is the case with the passengers on the Lifeline –, you disembark them at the nearest safe port, which is in Malta or Italy…

Q. – The nearest safe port – that works out for everyone.

THE MINISTER – It doesn’t work out for everyone, it’s international law, and it’s not for us to replace the law with the law of the jungle; however, we can’t say to Malta or Italy: “cope on your own”. So what we’ve proposed – what Emmanuel Macron and Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish Prime Minister, proposed yesterday – is a massive European presence in the Italian ports to come and interview the passengers, as we’re currently doing in Valencia.

Q. – But Italy doesn’t want them, Italy has said no, Italy is closing its doors…

THE MINISTER – That’s not what Giuseppe Conte said yesterday at the meeting held in Brussels with 16 European Union members. Each one came with its proposals, its constraints, its difficulties… What happened at that meeting in Brussels was that we already ruled out what was contrary to our values. As you know, some people had been talking about sending people back to third countries, to the Balkans, against their will, to be detained, in other words contrary to all international law. That was ruled out…

Q. – We’ll come back to the meeting, but we’re actually looking at a practical case: once again, we have a boat carrying 230 people off the Mediterranean coast. Technically, practically speaking, what’s going to happen to that boat in the next few hours?

THE MINISTER – Technically, practically speaking, it’s up to Italy to take it, just as Spain is currently taking in more migrants than Italy, and just as Greece is currently taking in more migrants than Italy. At the moment there isn’t a migration crisis, there’s no peak migration: there have never been so few since 2015, there are 10 times fewer.

Q. – Is there a political crisis?

THE MINISTER – There is a political crisis, because there are populists here and there in Europe, coalition members or heads of government, who are using this pretext to put the European Union in difficulty, because they hate the European project.

Q. – In fact, it’s over: the 28 of us can no longer manage to move forward; Angela Merkel said so yesterday. When he arrived, Emmanuel Macron said: we need a European solution, and the German Chancellor said basically: we’re going to reach bilateral agreements, multilateral agreements, because on this issue…

THE MINISTER – Yes and no, because…

Q. – There’s no Europe any more.

THE MINISTER – That’s wrong. We’re in agreement. First of all, the fact that 10 times fewer migrants are arriving in Europe in 2018 than in 2015 is because Europe organized itself, because Europe was able to face up to it. We agree on the work to be done with the countries of origin, the transit countries, we agree on strengthening the EU’s external borders; we agree on all these issues. The crisis today is linked to what are called secondary movements. There are people who have entered the European Union and then take advantage of free movement within Schengen. On that point…

Q. – But if we take two steps back, when you see Italy, Austria and Hungary, which no longer speak the same language as France, Spain or Germany…

THE MINISTER – But Italy and Austria don’t speak the same language together.

Q. – So what do we do? That’s the question I was asking you. The 28 of us can no longer move forward on migration issues. Is it over?

THE MINISTER – We need more solidarity, and volunteer countries – France is one of them – to better support the countries through which migrants and asylum seekers are arriving. We also need to keep a clear head, keep our nerve and not let ourselves be manipulated by politicians…

Q. – Who are you thinking of when you say that? The Italians?

THE MINISTER – I’m not lumping everyone together – neither Italy nor anywhere. There are migrants who are political refugees fleeing war; we must take them in more effectively than before. There are economic migrants we can’t take in en masse, and we must work together in the countries of origin. On that we agree.

Q. – When you see the Austria of Sebastian Kurz, who is threatening to close the busiest crossing-point between central and southern Europe, at the height of summer, can he decide this?

THE MINISTER – He clearly can decide; the question is, does Italy continue shouldering its responsibility as a country the migrants enter first – in other words, are people registered, and are their asylum applications examined once they’re filed? If that’s not the case, borders will indeed be closed.

Q. – And would this be considered a failure? For example, would you consider it a failure?

THE MINISTER – Of course, but so would someone like Viktor Orban, because the Hungarians, Poles and the others benefit hugely from freedom of movement in Europe, they don’t want to see it threatened. There’s a European Council on Thursday and Friday, we’re all going to sit down at the table, we’re going to have to find a solution…

Q. – But are you genuinely optimistic about the end of the week?

THE MINISTER – I’ll be honest with you about the end of the week: I think that there’ll be further posturing, that there are people who are playing political games, who still think they’re campaigning. Obviously there’s no national solution, no one will be able to resolve the migration challenge by themselves. There will be a time when…

Q. – You talk about posturing, you haven’t mentioned his name from the outset, but it’s Matteo Salvini, and he’s rebuking France, he’s thrown it against the ropes and is saying: “we’re asking [France] to stop the insults and show its generosity by doing something – opening the many French ports and preventing women, children and men from being turned away in Ventimiglia”; this is precisely what we’re doing. We’ve closed our ports and we’ve closed the border at Ventimiglia – isn’t this lecturing justified?

THE MINISTER – France doesn’t need lectures from anyone.

Q. – That’s what President Macron said.

THE MINISTER – France is the country with the second-largest number of asylum applicants, we’re receiving more applicants this year than the Italians, no one should question France’s generosity, and it isn’t for Mr Salvini – who’s closing his ports, who encouraged the passengers to board the Aquarius, who encouraged SOS Méditerranée to take migrants only to then refuse them and play political games – to lecture France.

Q. – But all the same he’s the one Italy elected, so we’ve got to make do with Matteo Salvini.

THE MINISTER – We’ve obviously got to work with the democrats. The head of the Spanish government, which is taking in migrants and which doesn’t behave like that, Emmanuel Macron’s France, Alexis Tsipras’s Greece… Europe extends beyond men who speak loudly to make up for a lack of power. (…)

Q. – Can we go as far as financial sanctions for countries which don’t play by the rules on migration issues?

THE MINISTER – What we proposed, since we’re preparing the next European Union budget, is that the local authorities which take in migrants receive funding, and that this funding doesn’t go to those which refuse to take them in.

Turkey

Q. – (…) Erdoğan is claiming victory in the first round; some of his opponents are disputing it. Is it a clear victory or one tarnished by doubt, in your view?

THE MINISTER – An OSCE observer mission went to Turkey, it will publish its findings, I think, today or tomorrow, I don’t know yet, I’ll obviously read them carefully. My feeling is that whether he wins in the first round or the second round, I think Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has won. And I think he’ll remain…

Q. – And is that good news?

THE MINISTER – He’ll remain Turkey’s leader. It’s up to the Turks to choose their leader, it’s up to us to know what relations we want to have with Turkey. It’s an important partner when it comes to refugees – there are three million refugees in Turkey – and terrorism – because it’s an important partner –, but the way Turkey has changed politically means it’s impossible to imagine it in the European Union. (…)./.

Published on 09/07/2018

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