Malta will no longer host Frontex missions as it has been doing over recent years after the European Parliament yesterday approved a controversial set of new guidelines for search and rescue operations, a government spokesperson has confirmed.
The new set of Frontex rules for disembarking migrants rescued from the high seas stipulate that such migrants should be taken to and disembarked in the mission’s host country instead of the closest port of call.
Justice and Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici had already made it abundantly clear that if the rules were passed through the European Parliament in their current format, Malta would no longer play host to any Frontex missions.
A ministry spokesperson contacted yesterday confirmed that the government’s position had not changed and that, as a result of yesterday’s vote, Malta will no longer participate in Frontex missions as a host country.
Despite objections to the controversial disembarkation clause that were raised at various levels by both Malta and Italy, there were no other avenues left to be explored by Malta. The decision has now effectively been etched in stone.
Malta’s concerns to the clause are twofold.
Firstly, with Malta hosting summer Frontex missions between the north coast of Africa and the coasts of Malta and southern Italy, the implication would be that each and every migrant rescued from the high seas as part of the summer Nautilus missions would be brought to Malta, irrespective of where the nearest port of call may be.
The state of affairs, if Malta were to continue hosting Frontex missions, would also increase the already immensely disproportionate burden Malta is shouldering as regards the migratory phenomenon.
Secondly, the obligation to bring rescued migrants to the host country as opposed to the closest port of call would place the health, and at time even the lives, of migrants rescued at further risk.
Only last week, the EP’s Civil Liberties Committee had rejected the new set of rules, and hopes were high that this week’s plenary vote would confirm the Committee’s sentiments.
That, however, was not the case and the rules were approved by a narrow margin, just 33 votes short of the amount needed for the absolute majority required to block the rules.
336 MEPs voted to reject the rules, an absolute majority of 369 votes were needed to vote the initiative out, 253 voted in approval and 30 abstained.
Political sparks were already flying yesterday in the immediate wake of the vote, with Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil accusing his Labour colleagues of being “incapable of defending Malta’s interests” in that they had not managed to muster enough support for Malta’s concerns among their Party of European Socialists colleagues.
In a statement issued just after the vote, to which Labour MEPs have taken exception, Dr Busuttil remarked, “We always knew it but this confirms it: Labour is just bluff.
“We needed the Labour MEPs to convince the Socialist group to reject these rules, just like I did with my group. But they failed and were not even able to help us get another 33 votes.
“Barely a year ago, during the campaign for the European Parliament election, the Labour Party presented itself as the party that could fight effectively for Malta's interests. We get a great deal of fiery rhetoric from them. But despite having three MEPs and soon four, when push comes to shove, Labour proves to be completely ineffective. They are incapable of defending Malta’s interests.”
Contacted yesterday, Labour MEP Edward Scicluna rebutted Dr Busuttil’s argumentation, saying that there were some members of the European People’s Party (EPP), which the Nationalist MEPs form part of, who voted against the resolution, allowing for the new Frontex guidelines to come into force.
“Dr Busuttil is a member of the Civil Liberties committee; he had a bigger opportunity to convince his colleagues in the EPP.
“We (Labour MEPs) voted in favour of the resolution [intended to reject new EU guidelines]. We actually broke ranks in the Party of European Socialists and managed to convince some MEPs to vote in favour, but it was much easier for the Nationalist MEPs to convince members of their group.”
Labour MEP John Attard Montalto was reported to have been absent from yesterday’s plenary session. However, he could not be reached by phone or email, and the reports could not be immediately confirmed.
An exact breakdown of the way the different political groups voted is not available because MEPs used the electronic system to cast their votes.