Sputnik: What are we witnessing at this point? There has been this mutual exchange of accusations between the leadership of Italy and France over this issue of migrants. But, in your opinion, is this just one separate incident regarding this ship, Aquarius, or is it kind of reflective of a deepening division between EU countries over the issue of illegal migration?
Dimitris Rapidis: We have had a big division between the stances of different member-states on the migration or refugee issue since 2015. At that time we had the relocation, the refugees relocation program of the EU that didn’t succeed to be fully implemented by all member-states. Mainly Italy and Greece have assumed the burden of taking care of the refugees coming from the Aegean Sea. And throughout those three years we have not seen any kind of committed decision-making by Brussels on this issue and also we have not seen any solidarity from all EU member-states.
In addition to that, we do have a new government in Italy that has taken a harder stance with regard to the refugee issue. We also saw during the last couple of days the case of the Aquarius — the boat coming from North Africa — and what was the situation in the Italian Sea, the communication between the Italian government and the new Spanish government on that issue. So I think that if you want to be precise on this issue, we have to say that actually the European Union has not agreed unanimously on a specific policy on that, while at the same time the European Commission through the voice of Mr. Avramopoulos, the relevant commissioner for migration, has pledged to increase the amounts available for the refugee issue.
AP Photo / Emilio Morenatti
An Italian border police officer escorts sub Saharan men on their way to a relocation center, after arriving in the Golfo Azzurro rescue vessel at the port of Augusta, in Sicily, Italy, with hundreds of migrants aboard, rescued by members of Proactive Open Arms NGO, on Friday, June 23, 2017
Sputnik: Of course, several European countries — France, Austria — have been closing their borders for migrants. The bloc has failed to find a compromise over the asylum policies. Now if we see Italy closing its border completely, what’s going to happen?
Dimitris Rapidis: I don’t think that would be the case because this is a problem for Italy, as it was before the new government. The problem is that Italy wants all the refugees to be permanently allocated along all EU 28 member-states. So, if the Italian government decides to close the border, it would be at the expense of its own policy. So, what we may see, possibly, is an effort from the Italian government to block the refugees inflows towards Italy, or alternatively, to see the Italian government pressing the European Union Council, the European Commission to draft a new relocation program that has this time to be implemented by all member-states.
Sputnik: Going back to the relocation programs you just spoke of, I was going to ask you: Why do you think they didn’t work? Were they flawed to begin with? Or was it a lack of unity, because a lot of hopes were pinned on them?
Dimitris Rapidis: Well, I think it’s a multidimensional problem. From one side, we can say that the European Commission did not make it clear that all member-states have to assume a specific number of refugees. Actually, there was a plan on how many refugees and migrants each member-state could receive from Italy and Greece. But practically this program was not implemented because many member-states, like Hungary for instance, or Austria, tried to block this program. So, what we have seen was that Germany assumed the biggest share of refugees from Greece and Italy and all other big member-states like, for instance, Poland or Spain, or even France, did not contribute to this process.
So, I think the bottom line the problem is that there is no specific policy from EU member-states — there are different priorities from different governments. So, it’s very difficult for such a program to be successfully implemented; and this is also the case that we have French President Macron with a completely different program. We have [Chancellor Angela] Merkel in Germany with another program, and at the same time we have a new government in Italy that has been firm on this issue saying that “We are no longer willing to have the lion’s share of those refugee inflows that can — as they say — damage our economy and break our social cohesion.”
The views and opinions expressed by Dimitris Rapidis are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.