EU lawmakers on Wednesday accused some member states of passing the buck by rejecting a Brussels plan for binding quotas for refugees making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.
Members of the main groups in the European Parliament voiced support for the plan that European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled last week to make the rest of the 28-nation EU share the burden of frontline states such as Italy, Greece and Malta.
Big countries France and Spain came under particular fire for jumping ship in the last few days and joining eight other EU nations which have expressed opposition to migrant quotas, including Britain.
Another 900 migrants were rescued from the Mediterranean on Wednesday, including around 300 picked up by a French navy boat operating under the European ‘Triton’ programme.
The Italian coastguard, which is coordinating the rescue efforts, said that one body was discovered when Italian rescuers boarded another unseaworthy craft carrying 286 people.
It was unclear what caused the fatality. Three of those rescued were rushed to hospital by helicopter for treatment.
Germany’s Manfred Weber, leader of the conservative European People’s Party, the largest group in the EU parliament, and the one that Juncker belongs to, accused member states of “not going along with European initiatives” to tackle the migrant problem.
‘Shoulder the task together’
“The commission can count on us to support the good initiative they have adopted,” he added. “We need to shoulder the task together.”
His Socialist counterpart, Italy’s Gianni Pittella, who represents the second biggest bloc in parliament, generally supported the Commission plan but not the part that sought European naval intervention to destroy smuggler boats on the Libyan shore.
“Europe is ready to take up the challenge of a common migration policy based on solidarity. European citizens are ready,” Pittella told the parliament.
“Now it is up to the European national governments to demonstrate that they can be forward-looking. We cannot tolerate tackling this humanitarian crisis with the vile approach of daily routine, with petty political self-interest,” he added.
Governments across Europe are looking over their shoulders as populist parties try to tap into growing opposition to migrants during tough economic times.
Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister who leads ALDE, which is the fourth biggest bloc, also called to task the member states.
“The outright refusal of France and Spain to consider the Commission’s proposal for refugee quotas is very disappointing,” he said.
The only major opposition came from British Eurosceptic Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, who said jihadist groups were trying to smuggle militants into Europe posing as migrants.
“There is a real genuine threat of ISIS (the Islamic State militant group in Syria and Iraq) using this policy to infiltrate our countries and to pose great dangers to our society,” he told parliament.
So far this year, some 1,770 migrants have perished on the hazardous journey to Europe, according to the International Organisation for Migration, a 30-fold increase over the same period in 2014.
Eritreans form the largest group of those seeking to reach Europe by sea. Others come from Ethiopian, Somalia, Syria, Nigeria, Gambia and other sub-Saharan nations.