AN AGREEMENT by the heads of government of the 28 EU
member-states to step up search-and-rescue operations in the
Mediterranean masked deep divisions over how to tackle the migrant
crisis that has cost the lives of about 1300 people in the past
Britain is sending the Royal Navy's flagship HMS
Bulwark, three helicopters, and two border-patrol ships as
part of the EU Council's decision to triple the budget of Operation
Triton - putting it on a par with its predecessor, Operation Mare
That operation was established in 2013, after the deaths of
about 400 asylum-seekers off the Italian island of Lampedusa; but a
year later it was cancelled, amid controversy, when some
governments, Britain included, said that it was encouraging unsafe
migration, and that people-smugglers were using it as cover for
taking greater risks.
But the deaths this month of an estimated 1300 migrants in the
Mediterranean, bringing the total toll this year to about 1750, has
forced governments to think again.
As well as boosting Operation Triton, the EU leaders also agreed
to aim at limiting "irregular migration flows" by working with
countries of origin and transit; to support "front-line member
states under pressure"; and to explore ways of capturing and
destroying the vessels of people-smugglers before they can be
"Saving the lives of innocent people is the number-one
priority," the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said
after the meeting.
"But saving lives is not just about rescuing people at sea. It
is also about stopping the smugglers, and addressing irregular
migration. We are facing a difficult summer, and we need to be
ready to act."
But the EU Council failed to reach agreement on proposals from
the European Commission for an EU-wide migration policy, and a
system of resettlement within Europe. Instead, it agreed to a
"voluntary" programme of resettlement for those countries willing
to take part.
Britain is not one of them. David Cameron told his counterparts
that Britain's offer of HMS Bulwark was conditional on no
rescued migrants making their way to Britain.
Speaking as he arrived in Brussels, he said: "Britain, as ever,
will help. We will use our aid budget to stabilise neighbouring
countries, and, as the country in Europe with the biggest defence
budget, we can make a real contribution."
He emphasised, however, that this offer was made "under the
right conditions, and that must include that people we pick up . .
. are taken to the nearest safe country - most likely Italy - and
don't have immediate recourse to claim asylum in the UK."
Before last Thursday's meeting began, Mr Tusk minimised hopes of
any agreement on resettlement, saying that it would be "the most
difficult, the most challenging" part of the meeting. . . It will
be a discussion about readiness to sacrifice some national
interests for the common economic good."
Afterwards, the EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker,
said that he was disappointed with the outcome. "I would have liked
for us to be more ambitious. That was not possible." He said that
the European Commission would continue to discuss its "agenda for
migration" in May, as it attempts to come up with "a package that
will enable . . . a more comprehensive approach".
The EU Council will discuss the issue again at its next
scheduled meeting in June.
AS THE European Council was meeting last week, the President of
the European Parliament, the German MEP Martin Schulz, predicted
that the Parliament would produce a "very, very lively response" if
the heads of government failed to properly address the
Mediterranean migrant crisis.
In a debate in Strasbourg on Wednesday, he (and most of the
Parliament) spoke in favour of a common European migration policy,
and a system of quotas so that the "burden" of migration was shared
across the EU's member states. Currently, two-thirds of all asylum
applications in the EU are fielded by Germany, Sweden, Italy, and
Reporting the EU leaders' deliberations to the European
Parliament, the President, Donald Tusk, said that "the best way to
protect people from drowning is to ensure they don't get on the
boats in the first place." Outlining the steps that the governments
had agreed, he said that the biggest difficulty was the current
state of Libya. "We have a neighbour on our border without law and
order, and without a government that we can work with."
The European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, told
MEPs that the "EU Council's response was immediate, but remains
inadequate. . . because the conclusions adopted at the
extraordinary Council were not as ambitious as they could have
been. We should have indicated our collective will to share
refugees geographically across the EU. This is not something that
He continued: "We have to leave the door slightly ajar. If we
don't open the door to legal migration then the poor people of the
world will be climbing in through our windows."
The London Conservative MEP Syed Kamall described how his
parents came to Britain "for a better life", and said that "had
they not taken that step, my life would have been very
"To those who say we should turn everyone away, and to those who
say we should let everybody in - you are both wrong."
He argued that "the migration system should not be conflated
with the asylum system", saying that doing so "undermines public
trust in both. Part of the problem with this debate is that we are
deliberately confusing legal migration, and helping those in need.
We have to put an end to that confusion."