Conservatives and nationalists team up in the EP against solidarity

On 24 October the European Parliament voted down the resolution Search and rescue in the Mediterranean, presented by the Chair of the LIBE Committee Fernando López-Aguilar (S&D). This vote marks one more failure by the EU to take a far-sighted approach to the migration flows in the Mediterranean. The resolution asked Member States “to keep their ports open to boats, including NGO ships, which carried out search and rescue operations”. Shamefully, the Parliament voted down a resolution calling for the protection of civic space and for a more structural approach to migration flows in the Mediterranean

During the debate, Fernando López-Aguilar stressed that the proposed resolution aimed not only to keep the ports open to NGOs but also to promote a fair mechanism for the redistribution of migrants between Member States. The resolution also called for “strengthening the proactive search and rescue operations, providing a sufficient amount of ships and equipment for operations along the routes on which they can contribute to saving lives”. Moreover, the text mentioned as possible interventions a new EU mission coordinated by Frontex or a series of international, national and regional operations.

Notably, the resolution would have strengthened search and rescue activities in the Mediterranean and kept the ports open for humanitarian ships. Furthermore, it included the request to close the detention centres and end the collaboration with the Libyan coast guard in the case of ascertained violations of human rights.

So what happened in Strasbourg and why? The majority that elected Ursula von der Leyen as President of the EU Commission has proven to be fragile, especially over matters that are key to the future of the EU. The plenary rejected the text with a margin of only two votes – 290 MEPs voted against, 288 in favour and 36 abstained. Social Democrats, Greens and GUE united in support of the resolution, while the vast majority of EPP members voted it down, together with Identity and Democracy (nationalists and the far-right), while the European Conservative Reformists (Tories) and Renew Europe (liberals) split, making the vote of the 14 MEPs from the Italian Five Stars Movement (attached to no group) decisive. Eventually they abstained and doomed the resolution to failure.

As stated by the Rapporteur: “There is also a very important legal point that has been present on a regular basis in the ongoing discussions and that is the need to stop the criminalisation of NGOs”.

If passed, this resolution would have facilitated the political and institutional process towards the reform of the Dublin Regulation for temporary relocations. This vote has once again highlighted  the lack of any willingness among the conservative and nationalist forces in the EP to find viable, long-term, sustainable and solidarity-driven solutions for structural matters.

In voting down this resolution, conservatives also voted down the openness of civic space, while supporting the “criminalisation of solidarity”. This choice comes with political, legislative and financial consequences.Conservatives and populists in the EU institutions have outrageously kept separate the debate over the respect of the Democratic Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights in the Member States, from the one on the criminalisation of solidarity and migration flows. However, the three of them stand together: States criminalise solidarity by directly or indirectly preventing NGOs from operating freely in rescue operations to save the lives of those who seek a better future on European soil.

The resolution wanted to be a humanitarian message before being a political message” affirmed the LIBE Chair López-Aguilar. Conservatives, nationalists and populists decided where to stand on humanitarian issues.