“We find ourselves once again with hundreds of deaths on our shores, as a result of complete inaction by the European Union,” Malta MEP Roberta Metsola said, with audible frustration.
An estimated 1,600 people have drowned crossing the Mediterranean this year.
Malta is on the front line but Metsola says all European countries need to address issues of migration and asylum.
“Unfortunately, the way Europe has been built places a disproportionate burden on the Mediterranean member states,” she said. “The message has to be, without pointing fingers, that every single member state has to play its part.”
Italian authorities have rescued more than 11,000 people since the middle of last week. It shut down its patrol mission, Mare Nostrum, last year to protest against the fact that other European countries were not contributing. The EU replacement, Triton, has a smaller budget, which MEP Elly Schlein hopes will change.
“[Migrants] are not fleeing to Italy or Malta or Spain. They’re fleeing to Europe. That’s why we need to find a European solution to the problem,” she said, pointing out that six of the bloc’s 28 members process 75 per cent of asylum claims.
“Where are the other 22 governments?” she asks. “Where is the solidarity and the shared responsibility that the [European] treaty talks about? I don’t see it today.”
The increasing number of deaths in the Mediterranean appears to have increased the urgency of finding some kind of response.
"We cannot continue like this,” said EU president Donald Tusk, announcing Thursday’s emergency summit. “We can't accept that hundreds of people die.”
The summit will be addressing a 10-point plan presented Monday by EU foreign policy chief Roberta Mogherini.
“The fact that we have a 10-point plan is already a positive move, compared to where we were a week ago,” said Metsola. But she questions countries’ commitments. “My fear is that the heads of state and governments will do their very best to dilute these 10 points. So I remain sceptical.”
The scepticism is there because the EU has no jurisdiction over immigration.
“European governments have always been very jealous of their migration and asylum policies,” explained Schlein. “I have the impression they don’t want to share the competences until now.”
French MEP Philippe Juvin agrees. He says Europe needs a common immigration policy.
“It’s important that different European countries have the same policies concerning immigration, which is not the case now,” he said. Without a common policy, it is to easy to blame the European Union.
“If something is not working well, it’s easy to say it’s Europe, it’s not me!” said Juvin. “Clearly in this debate European countries, including France, are saying, We’re not responsible, it’s Europe.”
This means that the migrant crisis should not be blamed on the EU, he argues, adding that the solution must come from member states.
“In France we have planes, ships. We have to use these tools to save people,” he said. “There is an emergency; we have to save people now, not tomorrow… And it can be done only if state members want to act.”
But states do not always want to act, as immigration is a politically explosive issue. In France, for example, the far-right Front National has made electoral gains running on an anti-Europe, anti-immigration platform.
Juvin is a member of the UMP, France’s mainstream right party, headed by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who has taken a hard line against immigration, in an attempt to win over conservative voters.
“We clearly face a lack of political will by some political governments to deal with this,” said Schlein, who is hopeful that European countries will use the latest tragedies to support Italy and other countries’ efforts.
“How many deaths do European governments need to find a common solution?” she asked. “I understand that that they are afraid of public opinion … But I believe that, when you’re at the government, you should not only run after public opinion and should do what is right. And we have a moral and legal obligation."