Lampedusa: A Council for naught

  • The Lampedusa tragedy has still not triggered a European call to action.
  • Europe is having great trouble dealing with the illegal immigration issue.

The European commissioner for interior affairs, Cecilia Malmström, was hoping this Tuesday to propose an extensive sea operation named “Safety and rescue” to interior and immigration ministers at a Council meeting in Luxemburg. These two ambitious words encompass the response to the tragedy that occurred off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, where a ship carrying around 500 illegal immigrants sank last Thursday 500 meters from the coast. Only 155 of them survived.

However, there was no concrete proposal – and even less commitment – forthcoming from ministers. There is not as much as a beginning of a draft of any kind. The idea behind the commissioner’s admittedly rather vague intentions are as follows: release the financial, technical and human means to member states so they can implement much wider operations than those currently available in the Mediterranean.

One is to “secure” the external borders, especially on the Mediterranean coast. There are plenty of hands on deck, in a manner of speaking, to accomplish this. The states involved are deemed responsible for watching over their own borders along with Frontex, the European agency created in 2004, whose mission it is to coordinate this type of security. It appears to be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth when a ship full of clandestine passengers can still sink 500 meters from the coast. However, Frontex’s meager resources of €85 million this year, €33 million less than in 2011, do not allow it to confront the situation properly.

Should Frontex receive more financial backing? “Some sort of consensus should form in the Council,” confides Maggie De Block, the Belgian urban and immigration secretary of state representing Belgium in Luxembourg. “It’s obvious that more needs to be done, and of course that involves Frontex.” This would require that Commissioner Malmström come back (but no one knows in what timeframe) with concrete proposals on how the European agency could do more, do better and with what means. “We can already build something solid with about fifty million euros per year,” a source close to the issue thought it safe to reveal. €50 million? A pittance compared to the scale of the 28-state European Union. It’s hard to imagine how that would change the scope of its operations.

Strengthened coast guard services can never solve the barrage of makeshift rafts crammed with desperate refugees in the Mediterranean – everyone was well aware of this on Tuesday. “What needs to be done is to help some of the third world countries manage the stream of departing immigrants,” explained the French interior minister, Manuel Valls. Cecilia Malmström, like many others, referred to the recent agreements made in this area with Morocco. “It can also be done with Tunisia. With Libya, a very weakened country, it’s obviously more complicated.” What is needed, according to the various officials leaving the Council meeting, is a global policy with extended cooperation with third-world countries. Cooperation would include development assistance or aid. Upon the request of Angelino Alfano, the Italian minister of the interior (the former Berlusconi heir apparent who recently turned on his master during his attempted coup against the Letta government), a task force will quickly be set up to gather all the details of problems facing those European countries with a Mediterranean border, the battle against illegal immigrant trafficking networks included.

Finally, it’s clear that European immigration management must be put on the agenda for the next European summit of heads of state and government at the end of this month. A Luxembourg source even came up with a thought-provoking idea: immigration should become a part of European Union foreign policy. It’s another way of recognizing that attempts to cross the Mediterranean or other borders to attain the European El Dorado are not a simple matter of border control. The issue raises questions about the EU’s relations with its immediate neighbors and all the countries whose nationals dream of a European paradise.


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One Response to Lampedusa: A Council for naught

  1. Paul says:

    Ah so! “Eyrop” needs to allott more (taxpayer’s) money into better supervising the entry into the “continent” (thereafter siphoned into a “country” of choice) of those having departed as “illegal emigrants” and would then arrive as “legal migrants”. The Midas touch?

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