BRUSSELS – The chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP) Manfred Weber, in statements to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency on Wednesday, referred to a “migration emergency in the Mediterranean, but also in the rest of Europe.”
Weber made the statements after the developments in Italy with the Ocean Viking ship and the controversy that has broken out between Rome and Paris. Weber noted that a European response is needed and underlined that “we cannot leave countries like Greece, Italy and Cyprus alone in this.”
In addition, he accused France and Germany of not keeping their promises to the countries of the South for voluntary relocations. Finally, he called for an agreement to be reached on the Pact on Migration and Asylum under the Czech Presidency, ie before the end of the year.
According to European sources, in 2022 the arrivals of undocumented migrants in the Eastern, Central and Western Mediterranean have exceeded pre-pandemic numbers, but remained significantly below the levels of 2015. From January to July 2022, arrivals of undocumented migrants rose to 153,900, recording an increase of 85% compared to the same period in 2021. More specifically, between January and July 2022, arrivals in the Central Mediterranean increased by 42%, in the Eastern Mediterranean by 122% and in the Western Mediterranean by 1% in compared to the same period in 2021.
The full interview follows:
How is the Italian stance on the Ocean Viking case helpful in a European approach?
“This crisis between Italy, France, and Germany is another wake-up call for Europe under the leadership of the Czech presidency to reach the agreement on the migration and asylum pact: we need to find a common solution. We should not be mistaken: we are witnessing a migration emergency in the Mediterranean but also in the rest of Europe. That’s why I expect the EU as a whole to come up with a response. We cannot let countries like Greece, Italy and Cyprus alone in this.”
What do you think of the accusations from France that Italy is breaching international law?
“It is crucial that Europe does not lose its value base. The right to asylum is one of the basic principles that the people who are fighting for democracy, for freedom, for human rights, in the world must see the EU as a safe haven. Like those who are now fleeing Iran. Of course we have to rescue people at sea if they are seeking safety. And I’m sure all the border guards who are there in the Mediterranean, from the Italian ones, to Frontex, from the Maltese to the Greeks and the Spanish, are trying to do their best to keep these principles alive.”
When bilateral issues between two members-states come up what should be the European institutions and the European political parties reaction?
“I think that Italy, like Greece, when it comes to migration have been left alone by Europe. Countries like France and Germany promised the countries of the South a voluntary relocation program. They promised they would take in 8,000 refugees from Italy and other countries to help them because they are under pressure being border line. But only 170 people have been relocated, and of these France has taken 38: these are the figures the Commission had. Paris and Berlin have not kept their promises. Greece and Italy should not be blamed for trying to control new arrivals as much as possible. Asylum and migration policy starts with effective border controls by the state.
Do you think that an overall european agreement on the migration and asylum issue will be the right “unbrella” to provide the necessary answers to one more migration crisis?
“Achieving a binding agreement on a redistribution mechanism, would be a very positive step. We have not been this close to an agreement before. Migration is the biggest unresolved political issue since the crisis in 2015 and 2016 so progress on a European position is very much needed.”