A European Parliament committee yesterday completely overlooked Malta’s plea to change the rules underpinning irregular migrant rescue operations coordinated by EU border control agency Frontex.

Despite proposed amendments by Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola, the Civil Liberties Committee decided to keep the draft text as it is: meaning all migrants rescued at sea during missions hosted by Malta would have to be taken to the island.

This is another blow to the island’s attempts to put political and diplomatic pressure on the EU to obtain more concrete help to control migration.

And it effectively means Malta cannot host any future missions if it wants to curb the arrival of irregular migrants.

In 2010, when the European Commission had first proposed the rule, Malta vehemently opposed it and declared it would no longer take part in Frontex patrols.

Following a legal battle led by then MEP Simon Busuttil, the European Court of Justice declared the rules ‘null and void’ as they did not respect the provisions of EU Treaties. The court had sent the rules back for revision.

Despite the fact that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had called for fairer rules in October, the EP committee disagreed with Malta’s position and left the disembarkation rules unchanged.

All migrants saved during Frontex-led missions would have to disembark in the mission’s host country.

The committee’s decision is not final, as the rules have to be agreed between the 28 member state governments.

Ms Metsola, the only Maltese MEP on this committee, voted against the draft text.

“For me this was a red line and that is why I voted against. Unfortunately, I was in the minority,” she told Times of Malta yesterday.

“The ball is now in the government’s court to ensure that they back my arguments in council and continue to push Malta’s position forward. The government can use its influence to try to get the other member states on board.”

The decision, which the EU Council is expected to discuss early next year, was the second setback for Malta’s plea for more concrete measures to be taken by the EU over irregular migration.

Last week, proposals by the Task Force for the Mediterranean ignored the central issues that Dr Muscat has been insisting on: burden sharing and obligatory resettlement of ­­­asylum seekers.

On the other hand, it proposed a raft of other measures, such as increasing the financing for front-line countries such as Malta and the possibility of starting negotiations with Libya and other countries on search and rescue measures.

The proposals include an extra €14 million for Frontex patrols of the Mediterranean to rescue migrants, which would be applicable from April.

What happens to text now?

The text approved by the Civil Liberties Committee will be the subject of negotiations with the European Council (governments) and the European Commission.

If a negotiated text is agreed, it will be put before the European Parliament plenary, where all MEPs can move amendments, and then it will be put to a vote.

When this procedure is over, possibly during the first months of next year, the text will go to the Council for final approval.

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