After a heated row between Italy and France over a refugee rescue boat, EU ministers welcomed an EU plan to better coordinate the handling of migrant arrivals on Friday.
France has accused Italy of violating international law by turning away the NGO vessel earlier this month, sparking crisis talks in Brussels to avoid a new EU row over the politically charged issue.
Although all parties described the meeting as productive, Czech interior minister Vit Rakusan, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, later stated that all participants agreed that “more can and must be done” to find a long-term solution.
The EU ministers will meet again on December 8 to continue the “difficult discussion,” he said.
EU vice-president Margaritis Schinas said the commissioner was charged with “promoting our European way of life”, noting that Europe could no longer settle for just another ad hoc solution.
“We cannot continue working event-by-event, ship-by-ship, incident-by-incident, route-by-route,” he said, recalling that previous crises had been seized upon by “populistic and europhobe forces”.
Although the number of asylum seekers is still far lower than in 2015 and 2016, the dispute has already undermined a stopgap agreement to redistribute arrivals more evenly across the 27-nation bloc.
For years, Brussels has struggled to agree on and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers, but the ugly spat between France and Italy has brought the issue to the forefront.
Earlier this month, Italy’s new government, led by far-right leader Georgia Meloni, refused to allow a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship carrying 234 rescued migrants from the Mediterranean to dock.
The Ocean Viking eventually arrived in France, where authorities reacted angrily to Rome’s stance, cancelling an earlier agreement to accept 3,500 asylum seekers stranded in Italy.