Plans for a "solidarity mechanism" to deal with EU arrivals of migrant ships looked unlikely to break the impasse over migration at a meeting of EU interior ministers in Helsinki on Thursday.
However, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has announced a follow-up meeting to be held in Malta in September grouping the interior ministers of Germany, France, Italy and Malta.
France and Germany want to form a coalition of countries willing to systematically admit migrants when they disembark from rescue ships between now and October.
Some member states hoped that dinner discussions on Wednesday in the Finnish capital would start to convince countries such as Italy to back the initiative.
However, on Thursday morning Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini released a statement describing "clear opposition from other countries," including Italy, to the proposal.
Meeting between #France, #Germany, #Italy and #Malta during @EU2019FI informal home affairs council in Helsinki. Technical contacts to follow and prepare for a #migration focused meeting between the home affairs ministers of 4 Member States in Malta in September. @dr_micfarr— Joseph Muscat (@JosephMuscat_JM) July 18, 2019
A key sticking point for Salvini is that the measures see Italy remaining one of the main landing points for migrants.
"Simply redistributing refugees will leave hard-to-expel illegal immigrants in the first country of arrival," the statement said.
Italy's populist government has refused to allow ships carrying people saved from the sea to dock as long as too few EU countries promise to regularly admit such migrants.
The proposal calls for "a more predictable and efficient temporary solidarity mechanism," according to a draft obtained by AFP.
Simply redistributing refugees will leave hard-to-expel illegal immigrants in the first country of arrival- Salvini
In Helsinki, EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos urged ministers to unite instead of following "lonely national paths that always will lead to big problems".
He told the representatives that we will "all be judged" by European public opinion if member states fail to reach agreement on how to cope with new migrant arrivals.
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However, Avramopoulos played down the lack of agreement so far.
"Last night it was not a decision-making event," he said. "We had a brainstorming, as I said it was very animated, and today I look forward to having results."
France's interior minister Christophe Castaner told reporters on Thursday he hopes to hold a new meeting of around 15 member states in Paris on Monday.
"I proposed that we reach agreement as early as yesterday, but I confirm that we have not done so," Castaner said.
"Some states favoured refusing to even receive migrants, others favoured more solidarity," Castaner said, adding that many countries feared the mechanism could send out a "siren call" and attract a new influx of migrants to the European Union.