Interior ministers from 28 European nations will meet today as they face intensifying pressure to introduce new policies to stem migrant arrivals, in their first meeting after Austria took the EU helm with promises of a tough response to the issue. The meeting in Innsbruck will focus in particular on coming up with a common migration plan, with Austria expected to push to change the EU's migration policy so it is no longer possible to make asylum requests on European soil.
Although the number of migrants fleeing war and poverty has fallen sharply since a 2015 peak the issue is a thorny one in Europe and a key topic for the six-month presidency of Austria, where a conservative-far right coalition took power last December. Austria's hardline interior minister Herbert Kickl, of the far-right FPOE party, told journalists earlier this week that he would propose asylum requests be made in refugee camps outside Europe to "a sort of mobile commission".
Only exiles from countries that directly border the European Union would be able to make their asylum requests on EU territory. Kickl is likely to join forces with his Italian counterpart Matteo Salvini, also deputy prime minister and leader of the far-right League party. Salvini has banned NGO rescue boats that pick up migrants in the Mediterranean from docking in Italy, accusing them of aiding human traffickers to bring migrants to Europe. In Innsbruck, which has been described as an informal meeting, he is expected to ask nations not to send ships on international missions to Italian ports.
The issue of migration and asylum rights in Europe has raised tensions among the EU's 28 member states. Austria currently holds the rotating EU presidency, which gives it the opportunity to chair meetings and set agendas. Germany's interior minister Horst Seehofer said Wednesday he hopes to reach an agreement with Italy by the end of the month on the vexed topic of returning migrants there from Germany. A migrant deal with Rome is central to the compromise German Chancellor Angela Merkel reached with Seehofer to end a row over immigration within their coalition that has threatened to bring down the government.
Salvini said he and Seehofer shared a "common objective: fewer landings, fewer deaths, fewer migrants in Italy as well as in Germany". But the Italian minister said he expected to see more action to toughen the EU's external frontiers before agreeing to any deal to take back migrants. Kickl told the European Parliament on Monday that the Innsbruck meeting would be the first time "we will talk more concretely about the issue of disembarkation platforms" outside the EU for migrants rescued in international waters. But European nations are divided on the feasibility and legality of these "platforms", which several countries like Morocco and Tunisia have already said they would not host.