Migration dispute between Berlin and Rome

Moral bankruptcy or justified criticism?
© picture alliance / JOKER | Alexander Stein

The traffic light coalition in Berlin will in future fund private sea rescue in the Mediterranean with 2 million euros annually - until 2026. In conjunction with the still valid "Dublin III Regulation", which places the main burden of asylum procedures on the countries of first arrival in the EU, this has drawn some sharp criticism from Italy. The issue of migration is known to divide society here and has been a central theme in frequent election campaigns for years. The success of the right-wing government of Fratelli d'Italia, Lega, and Forza Italia in this September's elections can also be attributed in part to the heated migration debate.

The background

In the summer, 21 EU countries had agreed on a voluntary solidarity mechanism (of which only 13 countries will actually take in refugees), but so far even Germany, which has pledged a quota of 3500 places, has taken in very few refugees (less than 150). Other countries have apparently not yet fulfilled their pledges at all. As correct as the decision on sea rescue is from a humanitarian point of view, it is problematic against this background in terms of its European political genesis and effect. It is well known that the Meloni government is fundamentally very critical of immigration; Meloni's coalition partner Matteo Salvini is and remains a hardliner in this regard. And yet, a blanket dismissal of any criticism from Italy of the measure on this basis alone would fall short. After all, the decision fits into the perception that could be gained from Germany in the south due to a series of uncoordinated decisions.

The cardinal mistake of 2013

As recently as 2013, for example, Germany had resisted more solidarity for its southern European partners on the migration issue - only to call for it itself in 2015 during the refugee crisis. This was less well received and, as is well known, was ultimately unsuccessful. Especially since at the same time business was being done with the personalized cause of flight as a central actor in the Syrian war: Vladimir Putin. The fact that asylum, flight and economic migration are by no means the same in legal terms should not be concealed, but this was of secondary importance for the public debate.

A proposal in kind

In the absence of an effective distribution mechanism within the EU, Italy and other countries may rightly feel that the main burden of arriving refugees is - once again - being dumped on the countries of first arrival. It would therefore be consistent to underpin the financing of private sea rescue with offers of reception. Germany could undertake to bring the refugees rescued from distress at sea with the help of the 2 million euros per year immediately to Germany and to subject them to the first arrival procedure there. This is expressly provided for in "Dublin III" as a voluntary measure by the member states. On the one hand, this would set a good example for Germany, and on the other hand, it would refute the criticism that Germany is profiling itself as a humanitarian actor at the "domestic political expense" of others.

David Henneberger leads the Madrid office with responsibility for Spain, Italy, Portugal.