European Parliament president Roberta Metsola said on Tuesday that an ideal solution to reduce the number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean was for asylum applications to be processed before the applicants started their perilous journey across the sea.
Metsola was addressing journalists during a seminar before the annual State of the European Union (SOTEU) debate in Strasbourg.
The debate will be held on Wednesday when the European Parliament will be addressed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who will take stock of the Commission’s achievements of the past year and outline priorities until the end of its mandate next year.
This will be von der Leyen’s final State of the European Union address before the European elections, which take place in June 2024.
Questioned about member states' migration relations with Libya and that country's treatment of migrants, Metsola said the European Parliament identified with a migration policy that was fair to those applying for protection, firm with those who were not, had better return policies, and was harsh with traffickers.
“Yet for me, I see the only solution would be for asylum applications to be processed outside the territory of the European Union in order for us not to end up in a situation where the most vulnerable people on the planet face an almost certain death in our sea.”
What have we done since the Lampedusa tragedy?
She noted that it has been 10 years since the Lampedusa tragedy and asked what policies and actions have taken place since then.
"Ten years have passed since the tragedy in Lampedusa, and what has happened since then?" she asked.
In October 2013, a boat carrying some 400 Syrians and Palestinians capsized after taking in water south of Lampedusa. Hundreds drowned. The Armed Forces of Malta rescued 143 migrants, while another 56 people were taken to Lampedusa.
"What have we done since the Pope said that the Mediterranean is the largest cemetery in the world? What have we done?" she asked.
Climate change, Ukraine, the economy top EU agenda,
Discussing the EU's priorities, Metsola said the European Parliament's backing of Ukraine remained solid.
“Climate also remains a top priority and concern, especially after this summer,” she said.
The European Union’s climate observatory recently reported that July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth, as the summer was marked by heatwaves and fires all around the world.
She said that the main topic that will be discussed during Wednesday's debate would be the economy, with many Europeans concerned about job security and persistently high inflation.
When asked about the growing number of extremist parties and if they could bring about a change in the composition of the next parliament, Metsola said such parties should not be ignored.
"I think we should counter that narrative by proving that Europe matters," she said.
She highlighted successes the European Parliament had in recent years.
"In 2019, many were worried about having a large movement of people out of the EU," she said. "Now you do not hear that anymore. Why?
"The way we addressed the COVID pandemic saw us united like never before. The same applies for energy procurement, gas storage, investment in renewables, and helping every state to recover. I think we should focus on this."
Apart from Metsola, Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, Heidi Hautala (Greens), Pedro Silva Pereira (S&D) and Rainer Wieland (EPP) also spoke during the briefing on Tuesday morning.
They addressed their expectations of Wednesday's debate and highlighted their expectations for the upcoming European elections.