The Italian government has emerged as a key player in transforming the way the European Union will approach the worldwide migrant crisis.

migrantThe most recent developments came on Feb. 4, when leaders from 28 European Union states gathered in Malta for what was billed as an “informal summit” on the migrant crisis agreed to a new 31-billion-euro (33.1 billion U.S. dollars) plan to stem the flow of migrants into Europe.

The tone for the summit was set two days earlier, when Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni met with Libyan counterpart Fayez Al-Sarraj in Rome, where they unveiled a bilateral cooperation agreement where Italy will help Libya finance an array of domestic initiatives.

But the Malta summit was the big news. And while the plan negotiated there has drawn mixed reviews, the summit was significant because it showed the EU has begun searching for solutions to the migrant crisis as a bloc — a view Italy has long promoted.

“We realize now that we’re all in the same boat,” Gian Carlo Biangiardo, an expert on migration and demographics with Bicocca University in Milan, told Xinhua.

Gentiloni has been one of the main advocates for the collaborative policy. The 62-year-old Rome native has only been prime minister since December, but he has focused on migrant-related issues for years, advocating for a single European policy in his previous role as Italy’s minister for foreign affairs.

Until recently, the strategy among most major European Union players was to turn boats of migrants around when possible, and arguing that Italy and Greece, the two countries most impacted by migrant arrivals and also among Europe’s most indebted nations, should shoulder most of the financial and bureaucratic burden of processing refugees because most migrants were landing on their beaches.

In 2015, Gentiloni, as foreign minister, used the words “selfish” and “short-sighted” to describe Europe’s strategy.

“It is on this issue that Europe will either rediscover its soul, or lose it for good,” Gentiloni said at the time. “Asking Italy and Greece to do more on immigration is like asking a country hit by floods to increase its production of umbrellas.”

In Malta, the EU agreed with that view. The plan calls for the nations of the bloc to collectively spend more than ever before to help prevent would-be African migrants from reaching Europe’s shores through a combination of collaborating to police the highly-trafficked Central Mediterranean Route that connects Libya and by helping to stabilize the political and economic situation in Libya and other African states to make it more attractive for potential migrants to stay home.

The number of migrant arrivals — as well as the number to die en route — has risen each year since 2010. Last year alone, more than 180,000 arrived via the Central Mediterranean Route alone.

Stabilizing Libya is “more important than ever, and the European Union will do its utmost to contribute to that objective,” the Malta Declaration stated, adding that the EU is “determined to take additional action to significantly reduce migratory flows along the Central Mediterranean route and break the business model of smugglers.”

Seen as an important first attempt at confronting one of the world’s most prickly issues, the response to the recent developments among some expert observers was lukewarm.

“The 31 billion euros the EU says it will spend sounds like a lot, but it is not nearly enough,” Umberto Triulzi, a political scientist focusing on international issues, said in an interview.

“If potential migrants are going to conclude they are better off staying at home, we will have to confront civil wars, a lack of infrastructure, income inequality, and inadequate education systems.”

Biangiardo, from Bicocca University, was only a little more supportive of the conclusion the leaders reached.

“It’s a first attempt to solve the problem, and that’s a lot better than doing nothing,” Biangiardo said. “It will be important to watch what happens next.” Enditem

Source: Eric J. Lyman,Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh

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