Macron, Conte Underscore Friendship to Put Spat Behind Them

(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte pledged to work together on containing migration across the Mediterranean and deepen integration in the euro zone, as they put on a show of unity after a dispute between their two countries.

“There is a strong convergence between the two countries” on creating a common budget in the euro zone, Macron told reporters after talks at the presidential palace in Paris. “With Macron, there’s a perfect understanding,” Conte said.

Friday’s meeting between the two leaders was almost called off after the French government’s spokesman said earlier this week that Macron had told a cabinet meeting that the Italian government had been “cynical and irresponsible” in refusing to accept a migrant ship.

The “Aquarius,” carrying more than 600 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean, was refused access to Italian ports earlier this week and is now on its way to Spain, aided by two Italian naval ships.

Angry Response

Macron’s comments had brought an angry response in Italy, with Interior Minister Matteo Salvini telling the Senate that France had no right to give lessons since it prevented migrants crossing into France and hadn’t taken in asylum-seekers it had promised to accept. While arrivals across the Mediterranean are way down this year, about 300,000 people arrived by boat in Italy in 2016 and 2017.

Macron said he agreed with Conte that the solution was to beef up the Frontex force that guards the EU’s external borders, more centers in African countries to screen genuine refugees, and a re-writing of the Dublin accord on asylum to better share the burden across Europe.

“We can’t take decisions just when boats are a few kilometers from the coast, we need to redo the rules,” Macron said. “Italy’s difficulties can’t be solved by turning away from international humanitarian law, but by a European approach to prevent people from taking the voyage and sharing the risks.”

Similar Views

Macron said they had “strongly similar views” on creating a common euro-zone budget and completing banking union.

Conte called for people wanting to migrate from Africa to the European Union, including asylum-seekers, to have their requests processed at centers to be set up in their country of origin.

“We must change strategy and set up a system coherent with European Union values, reinforcing protection of human lives,” Conte said. “We must prevent the journeys of death. We must create European protection centers in countries also to speed up the process of identification and request for asylum.”

Italy will present to EU leaders in Brussels on June 28-29 a proposal to change the Dublin agreement, which requires asylum-seekers to make their request in the first EU country they reach, Conte said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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