The European Union’s efforts to reform its migration policy have hit a roadblock after Germany and Italy clashed over two key issues at a meeting of interior ministers in Brussels on Thursday.
The ministers were expected to agree on the last piece of the EU’s migration reform, which would set out the rules for handling migrants who arrive at the bloc’s external borders. The reform is seen as crucial to prevent a repeat of the 2015 migration crisis, when more than a million people fled war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa and sought refuge in Europe.
However, the talks broke down after Italy objected to a clause that would allow NGOs to assist migrants in reaching EU countries, and Germany opposed a clause that would permit detention centres to breach minimum standards in exceptional circumstances.
Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, who leads the far-right Brothers of Italy party, has accused NGOs of being complicit in human trafficking and has vowed to crack down on migrant arrivals. Germany’s interior minister, Nancy Faeser, who belongs to the centre-left Social Democratic Party, has warned of “deaths and misery in the Mediterranean” if human rights guarantees are not upheld.
The EU’s migration commissioner, Ylva Johansson, expressed her disappointment at the failure to reach a deal and urged the member states to find a compromise. She said the reform was “not only about solidarity and responsibility, but also about credibility and trust”.
The EU has already agreed on some aspects of its migration reform earlier this year, such as a mechanism for relocating migrants across the bloc and imposing fines on countries that refuse to take their share. However, the rules for managing the first arrival of migrants remain contentious and have exposed deep divisions among the member states.
The EU is also facing pressure from external factors, such as the rise in migrant arrivals from Tunisia to Italy and from Turkey to Greece. The bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has warned that migration could be a “dissolving force for the EU” if it is not handled properly.