French, Italian Leaders Project Unity After Migrant Boat Spat

After trading insults this week over the fate of a migrant ship, French and Italian leaders presented a more united front Friday, demanding an overhaul to Europe’s migration policies ahead of a European Union summit on the subject later this month.

As French President Emmanuel Macron hosted Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte in Paris, their rhetoric seemed very similar, even though they come from two very different political backgrounds. Their message: European policies for taking in migrants and sharing the burden aren’t working.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Conte at the French presidential palace, Macron said Europe’s collective response toward migration was not good, adding it was unable to respond to today’s challenges.

Macron outlined a number of areas that he believes need reform, from tougher patrolling and control of the EU’s external borders, to working more closely with countries of origin and transit, and more fairly sharing the migration burden within Europe — a concept that has so far not worked in practice.

Macron also tied migration reforms closely to eurozone reforms, which he is leading.

In remarks translated on France 24 TV, Conte also argued for the European Union to change direction on migration, including establishing hot spots to process asylum claims outside European borders.

“We have to establish centers of protection in Europe and the countries of origin and transit to prevent and accelerate processes of asylum seekers,” he said.

The show of unity was a sharp change from earlier in the week, when Italy’s new government demanded an official apology from Macron, who denounced it of being cynical and irresponsible’ for refusing to take in a roving migrant ship. The ship, Aquarius, is now heading to Spain. It is due to arrive in Valencia on Sunday.

Macron has also faced some domestic criticism for not taking in the Aquarius migrants, although the French government now says it may accept some asylum seekers. Hard-right politicians, in contrast, are sharply against the idea.

These divisions are reflected across Europe, where populist parties in Italy, Austria, and Hungary have adopted tough positions on migration. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her interior minister are also at odds on the issue.

Amid the disagreements, the number of migrants arriving in Europe has dropped sharply, from a high of 1.2 million in 2015 and 2016, to about 650,000 last year.

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