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IMMIGRATION

France tells Italy to stop ‘posturing’ on immigration and find a solution

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe urged far-right Italian leader Matteo Salvini on Monday to drop his "posturing" on immigration and help find a European response to the issue.

France tells Italy to stop 'posturing' on immigration and find a solution
Photo: AFP

Salvini, Italy's powerful interior minister and deputy premier, has singled out French President Emmanuel Macron for criticism in recent weeks, as well as other EU leaders he considers too soft on immigration. 

Philippe promised to be “direct” in his conversation with the 45-year-old Italian, head of the far-right League party, over dinner on Monday night in the French city of Lyon where the two men, along with ministers from Britain, Germany, Spain, Poland and Morocco, met for talks on immigration.

“I rarely use the same words or the same vocabulary (as Salvini) but that doesn't stop me being direct as well. I hope we'll have a frank and direct exchange,” Philippe said.

“Beyond the posturing, the issue of immigration cannot be solved with a national response. It requires coordination. It's a complex issue of common interest.

“I think you have to tackle it with conviction, with respect for national interests, but also with the desire to build a common position that is the only way to find a solution.”

Philippe's statement came amid open conflict between the new populist Italian government, led by Salvini and the head of the Five Star movement, Luigi Di Maio, and Macron's centrist administration in Paris.

Last week, an aide to the French president accused Salvini of “living off the migrant crisis” and blocking attempts to forge a common EU migration policy.

Leaving the dinner, Salvini made no attempt to disguise his differences with the Paris government — just hours after meeting French far-right leader Marine Le Pen in Rome, whom Macron defeated in last year's presidential election.

“I had the pleasure of seeing Marine Le Pen this morning and talking with her about Europe, the future of young people, trade and work,” he said.

“I need to work with everyone, but I feel closer to the views of Marine Le Pen,” he said.

The talks in Lyon were an attempt to bridge differences between hardline anti-immigration EU member states such as Poland and Italy and others like France and Germany that are in favour of accepting refugees.

The gathering, which continues for a second day on Tuesday focused on efforts to combat terrorism, precedes a larger meeting of European interior ministers in Luxembourg on Friday.

Morocco's interior minister, Abdelouafi Laftit, was also invited to the talks amid rising concern in Europe about the increasing number of migrants heading to Spanish territory via Morocco.

Spain has become the biggest port of entry for illegal migration into Europe.

The issue of returning Moroccan migrants to their home country, particularly thousands of unaccompanied minors in Spain and France, was discussed on Monday night.

“It's in the process of being resolved,” Laftit told reporters.

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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