The European Commission has no intention of changing its draft guidelines on anti-migration patrol missions despite the objections of Malta and Italy.
Speaking to The Times yesterday, a Frontex official said the new guidelines were specifically aimed at avoiding disputes such as the ones that broke out between Malta and Italy. In the past, immigrants were stuck on the high seas as the two countries were locked in a diplomatic wrangle on who was responsible for the people rescued.
“Everyone recalls these incidents and the Commission’s intervention. Brussels ended up as a referee in these disputes and we don’t think that’s our role. This is specifically why we needed to have a specific code of conduct to guide future Frontex missions. This will put participating member states’ minds at rest,” the official said.
Last week, the EU Council adopted Frontex guidelines to be used in future anti-migration missions coordinated by the EU agency. Controversially, the guidelines say that if it is not possible to return migrants picked up by Frontex vessels to the country they left from, they must be sent to the country hosting the Frontex mission.
Malta has hosted the mission for the past two years. The mission was previously based in Italy.
Both Malta and Italy objected strongly on the basis of the fact that the guidelines go beyond international legal obligations, which say that migrants should be taken to the nearest safe port.
A European Parliament spokes-man confirmed this issue was already being looked at by the Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, which was expected to give its green light by the first week of April so the guidelines would become enforceable before the start of the next planned Frontex mission in the Mediterranean.
However, the spokesman specified that the EP could not change the gui-delines as approved by the Council.
“The EP has no power to amend these guidelines. We can only approve or reject the new rules. If the EP decides to reject them, and this is highly improbable, the guidelines will be sent back to the Commission, which will then have to scrap them or come up with another proposal,” the spokesman emphasised.
“However, MEPs do not have the authority to change a single word from the text of the draft rules.”
Malta has insisted over the years that, according to international law, it is obliged to take rescued immigrants and asylum seekers at the nearest safe port, which often meant the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Although Italy contests Malta’s interpretation and the new EU guidelines seem to favour its stance, Rome has rejected the guidelines because they go beyond international obligations.
“We think the EU cannot override international rules and that is why we objected,” an Italian diplomat in Brussels said.
“The new rules will even put more pressure on us if we decide to host a Frontex mission and we don’t want that to happen,” he said.
Although Frontex was planning to start its new anti-migration patrol mission in the Mediterranean in April, the new rules may have put the mission in jeopardy as both Malta and Italy are threatening not to take part under the proposed rules.
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