Brussels – The European Union has proposed financial incentives to member countries to admit migrants from Mediterranean rescue boats as part of efforts to defuse a weeks-long showdown with Italy.
The proposals set out on Tuesday expand on those agreed at a fractious EU summit last month to respond to the decision by Italy’s new populist government to turn away such vessels.
The European Commission proposed offering volunteering EU countries funds to set up and run centres on their territory to determine whether people qualify for asylum in Europe or should be sent home as economic migrants.
The Commission, the 28-nation EU’s executive arm, also proposed giving any volunteer countries in the bloc 6,000 euros for every asylum seeker they admit from those “controlled centres.”
“We are ready to support member states and third countries in better cooperating on disembarkation of those rescued at sea,” EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said.
“But for this to work immediately on the ground, we need to be united – not just now, but also in the long run,” the former Greek politician said.
In addition to processing centres within the EU, the summit also agreed to consider setting up “disembarkation platforms” outside the bloc, most likely in north Africa, in a bid to discourage migrants from boarding EU-bound smuggler boats.
EU ambassadors were set to discuss the disembarkation centres on Wednesday with no sign that any of those countries will agree to them.
The bloc’s divisive political crisis over migration returned in the last few weeks despite a sharp drop in migrant arrivals due to aid-for-cooperation deals with transit countries Libya and Turkey.
The problem is the bloc has so far failed to settle rows over how to share responsibility for migrants and ease the stress on coastal countries such as Italy and Greece.
Eastern member states including Poland and Hungary have refused to admit migrants under an agreement to relocate within the bloc asylum seekers from Greece and Italy.
The deal was struck in 2015 at the height of the migration crisis, Europe’s worst since World War II.
Italy’s populist government, which was elected amid popular anger over migration, agreed Monday to continue accepting migrants rescued at sea, at least until the bloc finds a solution for sharing responsibility.
EU leaders warn that divisions over migration — which has fuelled rising populism and authoritarianism — could damage or even destroy the EU project.