Author: JOE BARNES, BRUSSELS CORRESPONDENT
FRANCE has been branded “hypocritical” by Italy after deciding to dish out lessons to Rome after its new government decided to refuse a boat full of hundreds of stranded refugees into its ports, a decision which has left the European Union on the brink as members scrap over migration policy.
The ongoing row over the EU’s migration policy has threatened to derail the entire Brussels political project. Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Commission deputy Frans Timmermans, on Tuesday, warned the feud between members has left the bloc “on the brink”.
Nations are starting to rebel against Mr Juncker’s plans to include more funding for refugees in the EU’s next budget, mainly from Italy’s new coalition government of Lega and the Five Star Movement.
Tensions reached fever pitch when Matteo Salvini, Rome’s new interior minister and deputy prime minister, blocked a ship carrying 629 migrants, including seven pregnant women, stranded in the Mediterranean.
With Malta also refusing to accept the Aquarius vessel operated by the charities Medecins Sans Frontieres and Sos Mediterranee, Spain’s new prime minister Pedro Sanchez instructed port officials to welcome the ship into Valencia.
Hungary’s praise for Italy’s rejection of the stranded migrants comes as another sign of the EU’s growing division over how to handle a future immigration crisis like that of 2015.
In response, French President Emmanuel Macron said Italy was “playing politics” by refusing to take in the migrants who were rescued off the Libyan coast.
The French President’s spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said the he recalled that “in cases of distress, those with the nearest coastline have a responsibility to respond”.
“There is a degree of cynicism and irresponsibility in the Italian government’s behaviour,” he quoted President Macron as saying.
Later, Mr Griveaux told French television channel News that France “took its fair share of migrants.”
Paris’ comments prompted a furious reaction from the new Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte.
He said: “Italy cannot accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have always preferred to turn their backs when it comes to immigration.”
According to the EU’s statistics office Eurostat’s figures over the last two years, France ranks third behind Germany and Italy in terms of numbers asylum applications received. In 2017, Germany received 198,255 applications compared to France’s 91,070.
Despite receiving a large number of application France is one of the countries who refuse the highest number of migrants, falling below the EU average of accepting one in two asylum applications. France only accepted one in three.
France ranks 26 out of the 28 EU member states when it comes to receiving migrants, with only Poland and the Czech Republic proportionally refusing more applications than Paris.