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article imageMacron and Conte call for overhaul of EU migrant policy

By Charles ONIANS (AFP)     Sep 18, 2019 in World

French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called Wednesday for a reform of Europe's "ineffective" EU immigration policy, bemoaning a lack of solidarity as they met to turn the page on Italy's previous anti-migrant populist government.

"The European Union hasn't shown enough solidarity with countries handling first arrivals, notably Italy," Macron said after talks with Conte, in charge of a week-old government after far-right leader Matteo Salvini brought down the last one.

"France is ready to develop this in the framework of overhauling the Dublin accords," under the auspices of the European Commission, said Macron, referring to the EU regulation which assigns responsibility for migrants to the nation of first entry.

Macron called for an agreement in which all EU countries would take part "or be punished financially", echoing an Italian demand.

Italy and Malta are usually the first ports of call for migrants making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe, but the two countries complain that they bear an unfair share of responsibility.

Salvini was interior minister until he collapsed the government in a move that he thought would make him prime minister, but Conte and the Five Star Movement which was allied with Salvini's League managed to form a new government without him.

He spent his 14 months in office taking a hardline position against migrants and the charities who rescue them, and the new Italian government is now seeking support to implement a pan-European migrant policy.

- Anti-European propaganda -

Historical allies Paris and Rome are showing unity for the first time after two years of disagreement, largely because of the previous League-Five Star coalition.

Salvini closed Italian ports to migrants and charity rescue vessels in a move that was broadly popular with Italians but left beleaguered migrants stranded at sea for days if not weeks.

Italy's new government is seeking support to implement a pan-European migrant policy
Italy's new government is seeking support to implement a pan-European migrant policy
Anne CHAON, AFP

The week-old coalition of M5S and the centre-left, pro-European Democratic Party has pivoted away from the combative rhetoric of Salvini, who branded Macron "arrogant" and a "hypocrite" over immigration.

"Migration is a complex phenomenon. It's vital for Europe to turn the page towards the structural, and no longer emergency, management of migrants," Conte told journalists alongside Macron.

"Migration must no longer be a theme of anti-European propaganda," he added.

The migrant deal first put forward by the new Italian government would put an end to case-by-case negotiations over who will take in those saved crossing the Mediterranean.

- 'Ineffective' -

France and Germany have reportedly given their green light to the new system, which could also involve Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania and Spain.

"Political disagreements have led to an approach which is very ineffective," Macron said.

"Many women and men who have risked everything to leave their country found themselves on Europe's borders wandering with no one taking responsibility."

"We are collectively ineffective with those who have a real right to asylum and those who have no such right and should be sent back as quickly as possible," said Macron, who has sought to make a distinction between those fleeing war and purely economic migrants.

Italy on Saturday allowed 82 migrants aboard charity rescue ship Ocean Viking to disembark on the southern island of Lampedusa, a post-Salvini change of approach.

Macron already on Monday signalled a tougher line on immigration in France, arguing that the government must end its "lax" approach to prevent voters from drifting to the far right -- or the sort of government Italy had for the last 14 months.

Italy's proposed new migrant mechanism will be studied in more detail at a meeting of interior ministers on Monday in Malta, ahead of a European summit in October in Luxembourg.

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