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Watch: Malta's behaviour in Aquarius case was correct - European Commission

Prime Minister says he hopes standoff with Italy was 'just a blip'

Video: Matthew Mirabelli

Updated at 7pm

Malta behaved according to international rules in the Aquarius case according to the European Commission.

In a statement on Wednesday, the government said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had a telephone conversation regarding the developing migration issue with European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker.

President Juncker and Dr Muscat also spoke about the bilateral relations with Italy and the latter expressed hope these would be normalised despite the unacceptable statements made by an Italian government minister earlier on Wednesday.

Dr Muscat and Mr Juncker discussed the pending Commission proposals on the migration package and the next steps to be taken.

Earlier, the Prime Minister poured cold water on the prospects of an agreement to overhaul the so-called Dublin regulations on migration in the forthcoming EU summit, saying that was “not plausible”.

Dr Muscat was answering questions following an official event at the Mosta Technopark, where he inaugurated the new premises of Centrecom call centre.

Talk of reforming Dublin II regulations picked up steam in recent days following a high seas standoff between Italy and Malta which saw a ship carrying upwards of 600 migrants caught in the middle.

The Aquarius is now en route to Spain, which has agreed to allow the ship to dock in Valencia.

Dublin II rules state that member states which first receive asylum applications and process them are responsible for those asylum seekers.

“I don’t think it is plausible, [but] not because of what has happened,” the Prime Minister said, with reference to the MV Aquarius standoff.

Lifejackets for migrants rescued by the MV Aquarius. Photo: ReutersLifejackets for migrants rescued by the MV Aquarius. Photo: Reuters

The reason, he said was the “divide” between east and western Europe on migration policy. Dr Muscat acknowledged that the Italian government’s policy still needed to be evaluated, even though its official position has, on paper, not yet changed.

“The best way to go about it is to wait for official declarations in the summits rather than relying on tweets or social media,” he added.

Just a blip?

Dr Muscat confirmed that he would be meeting the new Italian Prime Minister in person during the next EU Council scheduled for June 28 and 29.

“Our intention is to have a good and normal relationship, as we always had. We hope that what has happened was just a blip,” he added.

However, the Prime Minister insisted that Malta adhered to international regulations, while blaming Italy for not respecting its obligations.

He noted that Malta was one of just two countries which accepted its fair share of migrants under the EU’s relocation mechanism and said it had the second-highest rate of asylum applications after Sweden. Malta’s policy, he said, was in line with the one being proposed by the Commission.

Official statistics for 2017 show that Malta had the EU’s fourth-highest rate of asylum applications.

Commenting on his telephone conversation with French President Emanuel Macron, Dr Muscat said that both leaders “are on the same wavelength”.

5 Star walkout

The Prime Minister also referred to the walkout of the 5-Star Movement representatives which happened yesterday in Palermo, when President Marie-Louise Coleiro was due to make an address.

He thanked the President of the Sicilian assembly for dissociating with this gesture and called for prudence in order not to escalate tensions.

Meanwhile, MEPs are set to debate the plight of refugees crossing the Mediterranean by sea and the need for solidarity in a plenary session scheduled for Wednesday at 4pm.

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