Malta’s vacant seat in plenary EU migrant debate disappoints MEPs

Last Tuesday, an important European Union debate on migration was not attended by any representative from Malta. MEPs disappointedly noted the absence of a representative from the current European Council, Malta.

Dutch politician Jeroen Lenears, an MEP from the European People’s Party said it was “a shame” that there was no representative from the Council to attend the debate, according to Europarl, the official website of the European Parliament.

The debate was a plenary one, dealing with the relocation of migrants, under the theme of ‘migration’ which is one of the priorities of the Maltese Presidency; furthermore, ‘relocation’ is listed as one of the main objectives of the Maltese council. The debate was attended by Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

The debate was organized ahead of the September deadline regarding the relocation of 160,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU countries. As of 11 May, only 18,418 people were relocated, according to the article or Europarl. During the debate,” MEPs criticized EU countries for failing to follow through on their commitments,” the article read, Italian MEP Cecile Kyenge pointed out that Malta was the only country on track, together with Finland, to reach the EU’s obligations.

When contacted, MEP and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Roberta Metsola told this newspaper, “the fact that there was no one present in plenary from the Government of Malta to discuss an issue like migration and relocation was such a pity. Migration and relocation are political priorities for the Maltese Presidency of the European Council and it is a such wasted opportunity that no Minister showed up for the debate to give their point of view and underscore the work done on this issue.”

She continued, “I know a lot of MEPs were disappointed and it just goes to show how the early election in Malta, called by Joseph Muscat, is also affecting our Presidency. I hope that we will find the time to rectify the situation and that we continue to insist that migration remains a priority on EU level,” she concluded.

Migration falls under the remit of the Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Carmelo Abela. Talking to this newspaper from Strasbourg, the Minister said that before each plenary session, the European Parliament publishes its agenda in which they indicate when they request the Council’s participation during particular debates. “This particular agenda item was a last minute addition on behalf of the political groups, however, the Presidency’s travel arrangements had already been booked and arriving to Strasbourg is no easy feat.”

“Due to the sensitivity and importance of the topic, the Presidency also wrote a letter to EP President, Antonio Tajani, officially asking for the timing of the debate to be rescheduled since the Presidency was eager to attend and participate in this debate. Regrettably, the agenda remained unchanged and therefore the Presidency was unable to attend,” he said.

 Although Minister Abela said that the particular agenda “was a last minute addition,” sources told this newspaper that the request arrived last week.

Asked why EU spokespersons Dr Ian Borg or Minister Lewis Grech did not go instead, Minister Abela said that the same travel arrangements applied to all, whilst he believes that Minister Grech was in Brussels chairing the General Affairs Council.