Prime Minister Rutte will visit his Italian colleague Meloni this afternoon. The official agenda includes “the war in Ukraine, the good cooperation between the Netherlands and Italy and current themes on the European agenda, such as the economy, migration and energy”, the Government Information Service reports.
The subject of migration in particular is of great political importance to Meloni and Rutte. At the EU migration summit at the beginning of last month, the two heads of government agreed to discuss this quickly. “Her concern is the business model with those boat smugglers,” Rutte later explained.
Meloni, like previous Italian prime ministers, is under political pressure to do something about the migrant ships sailing to Italy from Turkey or North Africa. The recent shipwreck off the coast of Calabria, which killed at least 59 people, has fueled the political debate even more.
In the Netherlands, in turn, Rutte is under political pressure to do something about the asylum crisis. Not in the least by his own VVD party in the House of Representatives. In November he had to promise to make real efforts to limit the influx of asylum seekers.
NGO rescue ships
A thorn in the side of the Italian government are the rescue ships of NGOs (non-governmental aid organizations), which pick up people from the sea or from unsafe boats. These are ships from, for example, Doctors Without Borders, Mission Lifeline, Sea-Watch and also other, less well-known, ships that sometimes sail under the German or Dutch flag.
In 2018, the then Italian Deputy Prime Minister Salvini said: “Sail on to the Netherlands with your migrant ship.” The later Prime Minister Draghi also struggled with the problem. The ships were regularly denied permission to moor in 2021 and floated at sea for days. Italy wanted to make the point that other EU countries should also take care of the migrants on the ships.
And now Meloni is also demanding that Italy is finally helped. According to her, there are NGOs that work with people smugglers. She wants the EU to make agreements with North African countries such as Libya and Tunisia, from where many unseaworthy migrant boats depart.
Rutte has already met Meloni a bit by saying that there are “good and bad NGOs” and that the EU can “break down the business model of people smuggling”. Last night he nuanced that by saying “some NGOs with the best intentions inadvertently contribute to this model”.
Many migrants now travel illegally from Italy to other EU countries where they apply for asylum. They are often not returned, partly because it is unclear where they entered the EU.
That is why Rutte wants EU countries to better implement the Dublin agreement. This means that people must apply for asylum in the country they entered and be sent back to that country if they continue to travel to another EU country.
Italy has said it is willing to revive the old Dublin agreements, but then the other EU countries must help to stop the illegal flow of migrants via the Italian coast. Italy also believes that the countries should distribute the number of ‘legitimate’ asylum seekers more fairly.
Last month, the EU countries made new agreements about guarding Europe’s external borders. That means expanding the European border and coast guard agency Frontex and perhaps expanding the fence system at certain border sections, such as in Bulgaria.
How concrete Rutte’s agreements with Meloni will become becomes clear this afternoon, at their joint press conference.
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