The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

Italian MEP resurrects oil-rights-for-migrants allegations

Wednesday, 21 June 2017, 10:14 Last update: about 3 years ago

Italian MEP Mario Borghezio has resurrected accusations that Malta has traded oil exploration rights with Italy in return for Italy taking on Malta’s share of the central Mediterranean migratory burden. He has also asked the European Commission to verify if there is such an agreement between the two countries and, if so, whether it constitutes a violation of EU rules.

In a European parliamentary question, Borghezio also raises the spectre of the Prime Minister being investigated in the wake of the Panama papers.

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He says in his question to the European Commission: “Leaks published in the Maltese and Italian press have fuelled suspicions that a tacit agreement was reached last year between the former Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, and the current Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, who is being investigated as part of the Panama Papers enquiry.

“That agreement is said to have ended the dispute between Italy and Malta over oil rights in the seas to the south-east of Sicily, effectively giving Italy the green light to conduct geological surveys and drilling there. In exchange, a formal undertaking is said to have been given – and this is supported by the huge imbalance between the two countries in terms of migrant arrivals – not to involve Malta in recovery operations regarding the many migrants crossing from Libya to Europe.

“If there really is such an agreement, as the facts would suggest, this would constitute a serious breach of the agreements on the admission of migrants, which are binding on all the Member States.”

His specific question to the Commission is: “Will the Commission check whether such an agreement has been reached and, if so, say what it is considering to prevent this blatant violation of EU rules?”

Last year the European Commission dispelled allegations of such a secret pact between the Maltese and Italian governments.

Italian MEP Elisabetta Gardini had asked the European Commission to explain the abnormally low numbers of migrants being disembarked in Malta after being rescued at sea, and questioned whether the Commission is aware of any informal agreement between the Maltese and Italian governments related to rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

European Commissioner for Home Affairs and Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos put paid to the allegations by stating, in reply to the parliamentary question, that the Commission is not aware of any such bilateral agreement and neither is it aware of any alleged “inactivity” on the part of the Maltese armed forces as regards the rescue of migrants. As he explained: “The Commission is not aware of any bilateral agreement between the Maltese and Italian authorities concerning Search and Rescue (SAR) operations in the Mediterranean Sea.”

The Commissioner also dispelled allegations of inactivity on the part of Malta when it comes to migrant rescues, stating: “The Commission is not aware of any such alleged ‘inactivity’ of the Maltese navy. All the assets participating in JO Triton, including assets of the Armed Forces of Malta, should immediately transmit all information on detected boats in distress to the competent Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) based in Rome, put themselves at the disposal of the MRCC and follow its instructions, including the place of disembarkation.”

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