The EU needs a long-term plan to support transition to democracy in the Mediterranean area and cope with any possible migration inflows, said the Civil Liberties Committee on Tuesday. MEPs urged Member States to accelerate work on the "asylum package" and stressed the need for solidarity as regards relocating migrants.
On the possible impact of an influx of migrants, "for the time being the situation is under control" said Hungarian Presidency representative Peter Györkös. He added that over 80% of EU citizens in Libya had already been evacuated. As to the impact of the crisis on EU energy supplies, Mr Györkös said that "Europe has enough resources for the time being and there is no need for extraordinary measures".
"We cannot rule out a possible mass influx of migrants", since this will depend on the outcome of the showdown in Libya, said Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. The EU has to be ready for any development and "Member States have to take responsibility in a true spirit of solidarity", she added, noting that €25 million were available from the EU emergency fund.
The EU has begun operation "Hermes" to help the Italian authorities to manage the inflow of migrants from North Africa, in particular Tunisia, to Lampedusa, explained Frontex Executive Director Ilkka Laitinen, who confirmed that in the past week "there have been no new arrivals". He also said that the possibility of extending Hermes to address Malta's needs was being examined. More money and staff might be needed if the current emergency persists, he added.
Most of the current migration from Tunisia to Lampedusa appears to be for economic reasons, said Ms Malmström. However, developments will be watched very closely, she added, stressing that "Frontex and Member States may not push away people in need of international protection".
"What is our priority, keeping them out or facilitating humanitarian assistance?", asked Parliament's rapporteur on Libya Ana Gomes (S&D, PT).
For Simon Busuttil (EPP, MT), the three main priorities in Libya are halting violence, sending humanitarian aid and planning for a possible immigration emergency. "What if a mass influx turns into Europe, is there a plan in the drawer to be pull out if this happens?", he asked. In the Council, "Member States show no appetite for relocation", he mentioned.
EU action for Libya focuses on evacuating EU citizens (around 1,000 European citizens remain in Libya and many do not currently intend to leave it), humanitarian assistance and political action (including sanctions), to stop violence, said European External Action Service Secretary-General Pierre Vimont, adding that the EU is also assessing the short and long-term needs of Egypt and Tunisia.
Immigration emergency: are Member States ready?
"A border operation is not enough", said Rui Tavares (GUE/NGL, PT), stressing that the EU must focus on humanitarian risk and reform its asylum and relocation systems.
Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), asked whether there is "any sense of emergency" in the Council of Ministers about moving forward with the "asylum package". He also stressed that partnerships with the countries of origin will need to be strengthened. Judith Sargentini (Greens/EFA, NL), agreed that the EU needs to put its asylum policies in order.
Mr Györkös said the Hungarian Presidency would "try to move forward" in the Council with the relocation dossier and that asylum and migration issues would be high on the agenda of the June European Council.
Will €25 million suffice?
MEPs observed that the €25 million in EU emergency fund aid mentioned by Ms Malmström might not be enough to cope with a mass influx of migrants. "What are those €25 million supposed to cover?, asked Mario Borghezio (EFD, IT), pointing out that in spring and summer it is easier to cross the Mediterranean and more people will probably come to the EU. "Malta and Italy cannot be left to deal with these issues by themselves", he commented. "An emergency fund of 25 million is peanuts", added Renate Weber (ALDE, RO).
Ms Malmström replied that should there be a major influx of migrants, "additional funds could be deployed quickly", by activating special provisions for exceptional circumstances.
The long run
"It’s obscene that we are discussing what will happen on migration flows and energy supplies. We have to take a long-term view on this", said Carmen Romero López (S&D, ES).
Most MEPs stressed the need to help these countries with the transition to democracy and to promote their economic and social development. Mr Vimont mentioned the review of the EU neighbourhood policy, scheduled for April, as an instrument for dealing with the new political situation.
The EU needs to consider long-term support for the Mediterranean countries and to draw up a new strategy on economic and migration issues, agreed Ms Malmström.
In the chair: Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES)