The price of solidarity hasn’t been set

  • The summit of 28 recognizes that solidarity is necessary with countries like Italy and Malta.
  • Actions plans are delayed until December.

Seven hundred refugees were rescued from the Mediterranean on Thursday night! Was it a coincidence that it was the night before the meeting in which the leaders of the 28 were to discuss the problem termed “Lampedusa,” that the Italian authorities conducted this operation? There were no fewer than five rescue operations by the Italian navy that night, rescuing immigrants including women and children. It was on the eve of the summit for which many European sources have been busy trying to manage expectations.

As planned, the European Council made no decisions for concrete plans to remedy the immigration crisis in the Mediterranean. The southern countries, also called the “front line countries,” especially Malta and Italy, made it known, sometimes loudly, in preparatory meetings: They were expecting a clear signal that Europe recognizes the problem’s seriousness and that it is prepared to help “front line” countries. They want that help to be as much in the form of coastal patrols as in taking in refugees who end up on the beaches illegally, or they are brought in by the coast guard. The key word that was expected in the summit’s closing text was “solidarity.”

The verdict of Enrico Letta, the Italian prime minister, was highly anticipated, to the point where the press conference was standing room only after the summit. It was a positive ruling: “We are quite satisfied,” Letta declared. “The Council’s conclusions included the idea of solidarity. That signifies that the Lampedusa tragedy and all of the consequences of the immigration crisis, should be dealt with at the European level (…) The European Union has finally made a significant step forward.”

A significant step forward? In terms of statements, perhaps, but everything else is still to be done. That is whether it is action to avoid further shipwrecks or the issue of illegal organized immigrant trafficking. More broadly, it is about the European immigration policy. It is clear, though, that the 28 will not take up these issues until their June 2014 summit after the next European elections.

Immediate action plans will be on the agenda at the December summit. It remains to be seen if the statement included in Friday’s closing text will keep its promises. In it, “solidarity” and “honest sharing of responsibility” are mentioned. “There are many possible approaches to solidarity,” said one delegate of an important member state, enigmatically. “You’ll see, many countries will provide the means, planes or boats, humanitarian or financial aid…” if someone who followed the 28’s debates can be believed. The source continued lightly, “Don’t misunderstand: that will depend on what means are requested …”

What means? That’s what a “task force” has been asked to establish. That task force will bring together representatives of front-line countries, concerned organizations and agencies under the aegis of the European Commission. That will include the famous European agency called Frontex, which is responsible for coordinating border security and is critically lacking in means.

The task force’s operational recommendations will be submitted to the December summit. The question remains about how much money will result from the balance between “solidarity” and “responsibility.”



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