Summer is not yet here and migratory challenges across Europe have already increased tensions across EU Member States.
As countries insisted with their standoffs to raise visibility of their plight, the U.N. human rights recently expressed its alarm at reports of rescue boats failing to assist migrants in trouble on the central Mediterranean Sea, considered to be one of the deadliest migration routes in the world.
Mediterranean countries, including Malta, have accused other European countries of leaving it to bear the brunt of migrant arrivals from Northern Africa. Earlier today, Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo said on Facebook that he had written to his European counterparts demanding support on the matter.
It is clear however, that one-off agreements will not suffice this time round.
While it is understood that the European Commission is preparing a fresh proposal for a radical overhaul of the EU’s migration rules, to be launched with the onset of the German Presidency, Member States continue to bicker on plans for relocations, with traditional divisions re-emerging once again.
Back in 2015, the Juncker Commission had pushed for a mandatory relocation system for immigrants, but at the time the Eastern countries formed a unified bloc to lead such proposal to failure.
The situation for the Commission is even more challenging at this point in time, with more anti-immigrant, extremist parties making their way into national Governments, such as the far-rightist party in Estonia.
Last week, Malta together with four other neighbouring states, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain issued a call for “a mandatory relocation mechanism entailing the distribution among all Member States of all those who enter the territory” of a European Member States.
Informally, countries at the immigration frontline have been at loggerheads with Eastern countries, accused of getting the lion’s share of the EU’s budget while refusing to open their doors towards sharing the immigration burden. On the other hand, these countries accuse Mediterranean states of letting migrants move irregularly to other EU countries.
rejected this call.
It is not however, the easterners on their own to oppose such plans. Austria and Denmark are too, contrary to such proposals. In a joint letter sent to the Commission, the two countries insisted that plans for automatic relocation will simply reawaken old disagreements, aside from creating the risk of establishing a pull factor which encourages more migrants to attempt their risky crossings into Europe. The two states called for a compromise solution. “While showing solidarity should be mandatory, Member States should be given flexibility when it comes to concrete solidarity measures,” they said, suggesting solidarity can be provided in other forms and not only by taking in asylum seekers.
This position seems to have the support of most of the Central European and Baltic countries, who have argued in Brussels that solidarity can be strengthened with improved financial, technical, operational and expert support provided by the EU, its agencies and Member States, rather than necessarily through imposed allocation of migrants.
An already highly-charged subject is likely to be accentuated with the developments related to the coronavirus pandemic. The EU’s asylum agency, EASO recently warned that coronavirus outbreaks in the Middle East and North Africa could potentially cause food shortages, destabilise security and strengthen the hand of militant groups such as Islamic State. That could lead to “increases in asylum-related migration in the medium term”.