EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom will today be having talks in Malta on illegal migration, just a few weeks after her new appointment in Brussels. In fact, Malta is among the first EU member states she is visiting. Ivan Camilleri spoke to her yesterday.
Why did you feel the need to come to Malta just a few weeks after your appointment? Is Malta such a headache?
Well it's not a real headache but an important country where my portfolio is concerned and I think it is very important to talk to the people on the ground. This is also a timely visit before the so-called "boat season" starts and I want to see with my own eyes the problems and the challenges Malta is facing. Although I already have a pretty good idea of the problems related to immigration Malta is facing, it's always better to see with your own eyes and I am sure this will give me a better understanding.
In Malta, the EU is not perceived to be very beneficial when it comes to the illegal immigration problem. Are you aware of this?
I understand Malta's concerns but I think the Commission and the EU as a whole are doing a lot to help.
The new European Asylum Office (EASO) will be sited in Valletta and this is a very good thing for Malta as it will probably help, especially in handling asylum-related problems.
The Commission has also helped with international contacts to negotiate re-admission agreements, which are difficult to achieve with some countries. We are also trying to equip Frontex better to conduct its operations, giving it more independence and making it mandatory for other member states to contribute with equipment and resources.
Malta has also received quite a lot of money from the EU in order to help and so there are many things going on. Thus, I don't think that Malta should feel it is being left alone although I fully understand the feeling.
A few weeks ago the EU approved new guidelines for Frontex-led missions against Malta's wishes and just days ago Malta announced its decision not to participate in a Frontex mission this year. What is your reaction to this?
The guidelines have been discussed for many years, long before I became commissioner. It is the wish of member states to have clearer rules on how to conduct missions on the high seas and the lack of rules have also made other member states reluctant to participate in Frontex operations. That may also be a reason why Malta felt abandoned.
I really think it will be unfortunate if Malta has decided not to participate because Malta has a big sea border area and could only benefit. I am also trying to give more tools to Frontex to become more independent in the way it conducts its operations and it will be good if Malta could participate.
I want to discuss more with my Maltese counterparts about this decision. I still have to find out whether this is because so far no illegal immigrants have come to Malta this year or whether it's because of other reasons. However, I think it will be a pity if Malta is not participating as the island has a lot to gain from Frontex.
Do you really believe that the new Frontex rules are fair on Malta, which, in the eventuality of hosting a mission, like it has done in the past, will now be obliged to bring all illegal immigrants to the island?
Malta will not lead all the Frontex operations and the rules will make it clear for all countries of their obligations if they participate. There is also the possibility, before a mission starts, that participating member states agree on other rules of engagement, which can include the sharing of responsibility. So it will be finally up to the participating member states to agree on the rules.
What about more burden sharing and solidarity? Despite all the good intentions both are very lacking in concrete terms. For example, the pilot project launched last year to help Malta resettle refugees has given little results as many member states shied away from participating. So is the EU just full of buzzwords when it comes to migration issues?
The new guidelines might increase solidarity as with clearer rules we hope that more member states participate in Frontex missions. But although the Commission can talk about solidarity it is finally the member states that have to deliver and I agree with you that it is lacking.
We are now evaluating the Malta pilot project and I think it has been successful... I would like to find ways to make it permanent.
Should these things remain on a voluntary basis or is it about time to try to make solidarity compulsory on member states?
I think it is very difficult to force member states to participate because, ultimately, we don't have the powers to punish them if they don't. So what the Commission can do is to launch incentives and encourage member states. But, at this moment, I really don't think there is a possibility for mandatory rules.
What about more collaboration with Libya? Talks between the EU and Tripoli started years ago. Is there any kind of conclusion in sight?
Libya is not exactly the easiest government to cooperate with and you know that much better being neighbours. It's a complicated but important country and we will try to move forward. I've already written a letter to the Libyan Foreign Minister suggesting that we should sit together and identify areas where we can cooperate more in the field of migration.
I am open to discuss and reach some kind of agreement. We will now have to take it from there.
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