Italy is expected to use a meeting of European defense and foreign ministers in Vienna on Thursday to ask other members of the bloc to take in migrants rescued at sea under the EU’s “Sophia” mission.
With little immediate sign of a compromise in sight, the row could jeopardize the EU’s anti-trafficking mission in the Mediterranean.
What is the Sophia row about?
- Operation Sophia was launched in 2015 after a series of fatal shipwrecks in the Mediterranean involving migrants from North Africa and the Middle East.
- The mission’s mandate is to combat people-traffickers sending migrants on dangerous voyages.
- Twenty-six EU countries are involved in the mission, which is currently under Italian command.
- Migrants rescued at sea disembark at an Italian port.
- The Italian government, led by a new populist coalition of the League and 5 Star Movement, wants the EU to change the rules to allow ships to also dock in neighbouring countries
- Rome is threatening to close its ports to the Sophia mission if its demands are not met by next week.
Vienna conference – an opportunity? Italian authorities have been repelling migrants recused at sea in a bid to pressure the 28-nation bloc to accept more responsibility for the crisis. Last week, Rome threatened to cease billons of euros over the row. Recently, Italy only allowed some 140 stranded migrants to disembark after Ireland and non-EU member Albania agreed to take some of them. “Tomorrow (Thursday) the ball will be in the EU camp: by accepting our proposal it will have the opportunity to show it is a real community of values and intentions; by refusing it will deny its own fundamental principles,” Italian Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.
What is the EU’s standpoint? In line with international law, the EU insists that migrants rescued by the bloc’s naval mission in the Mediterranean must be brought to a safe port. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said last month that although Germany understood Italy’s feeling, it expects all EU states to uphold existing agreements.
What to expect from the Vienna meeting? Although the migrant row is not the only issue on the EU summit’s agenda, it is likely to overshadow the meeting. If the Vienna meeting fails to find a solution, the issue will probably end up with the EU heads of state and government at their summit in Salzburg on September 20.
shs/rt (AFP, Reuters)