The dispute between France and Italy had just boiled over. Paris had agreed to have a sea rescue ship with dozens of boat people on board docked in a French port – but combined it with fierce criticism of Rome for Italy not taking responsibility. The dispute, just one of many in the years-long struggle for a European migration policy, has been simmering for two weeks. The Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU presidency, convened a special meeting of interior ministers.
However, it will not only be France and Italy that will raise their concerns at the meeting, which is taking place this Friday afternoon. Government representatives from other countries are also traveling to Brussels with requests or demands. You can also address topics that are not officially on the agenda. Such as the expansion of the Schengen area, which should not be voted on until early December.
In the past few days, Austria has repeatedly expressed its skepticism about expanding the zone in which travel without border controls is possible. However, the rejection refers to the planned admission of Romania and Bulgaria, not Croatia, Chancellor Karl Nehammer specified. Interior Minister Gerhard Karner could use the opportunity in Brussels to talk about it with his counterparts. The associated Schengen members Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein are also involved in the deliberations. With them, the Schengen area comprises 26 countries.
Increasing number of arrivals
Vienna combines the debate with that of irregular migration. Their numbers are increasing again. According to government figures, almost 100,000 people were arrested this year trying to enter the country illegally. Since Austria is surrounded by Schengen countries, the people should have been registered beforehand – which was mostly not the case. However, Schengen without internal controls can only work if the protection of the external borders works, is the argument from Vienna.
According to EU figures, there were 281,000 apprehensions at the Union’s external borders by the end of October this year, which corresponds to an increase of 77 percent compared to the same period last year. Almost half of the illegal entries took place via the Western Balkans. The central Mediterranean route is therefore the second most active migration route.
The EU Commission and Parliament keep pushing for a reform of European asylum and migration policy. Two years ago, the Commission had already put corresponding plans on the table. Among other things, she proposed asylum procedures at the external borders, faster deportations and a “solidarity mechanism” to support the countries of arrival – for example by taking on refugees. This week, the Commission also presented an action plan for the Mediterranean route, which, among other things, is intended to strengthen cooperation with third countries.
The Vice President of the EU Commission responsible for migration, Margaritis Schinas, finds it “ironic” that the EU states still haven’t reached a decision. In a speech to the European Parliament, he compared it to having a parachute but deciding not to jump out of the plane without it.
EU money for police operations
Nevertheless, the Czech Republic hoped for progress – even if no decisions will be made at the current ministerial meeting. The opinions of the Member States differ too much – and their interests are also different. A discussion about sea rescue and the role of non-governmental organizations in this would primarily affect the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Austria, on the other hand, would like more EU funds for police operations abroad, which Minister Karner would like to address. At the Hungarian-Serbian border, for example, more than a hundred Austrian officers are on duty. The Czech Republic has also sent police officers there. The contingent could be doubled to 80 officials in the coming year, it was said on Thursday from Prague.