EU nods to Italy over NGO ships rescuing migrants

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Italy is likely to feel vindicated after the European Commission acknowledged the need to change how ships rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean operate — something Rome has been demanding for years.

We’ll explore how the plan went down and what the chances are for home affairs ministers to make any progress on Friday. (More on Europe’s growing housing problem for non-Ukrainian asylum seekers here.)

With the long-touted gas price cap expected to land today while the commission congregates in Strasbourg, Europe’s traders and exchanges have warned it will create “major risks” to the bloc’s financial stability and energy supplies.

Meanwhile, EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell pulled no punches after his latest attempt at mediating in a Kosovo-Serbia dispute over car licence plates fell apart yesterday. He said both had been displaying a “complete lack of respect for their international obligations, and this goes in particular for Kosovo”. He suggested that if any violence were to occur on the ground, they would be responsible for it.

We’ll also look at the EU’s ambitions in the field of supercomputers over the next two years.

Reining in NGOs?

Italy may have caused a diplomatic storm by refusing a humanitarian ship carrying migrants to dock in its ports but some of its arguments seem to have struck a chord in Brussels, writes Amy Kazmin in Rome.

The EU is convening an emergency meeting of justice and home affairs ministers on Friday to discuss the rise in irregular migration into the EU, including the sharp surge in the number of people reaching Europe — mainly Italy — by the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

Announcing a broad-based plan to combat irregular migration across the central Mediterranean yesterday, home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson acknowledged that the “recent events” had shown the current approach to irregular migration from Mediterranean crossing is “not sustainable”.

More than 90,000 people had reached Europe via the central Mediterranean route from Libya this year, an increase of 50 per cent over last year, according to Johansson. Most of them, she said, did not have strong claims to asylum as refugees but had mainly been economic migrants seeking better jobs and opportunities.

“The significant majority of people who arrive on this central Mediterranean route today are not in need of international protection,” she told reporters.

One topic likely to be intensively debated at Friday’s emergency meeting is the impact of the rescue ships run by humanitarian organisations that pick up migrants stranded on dangerously overcrowded smugglers’ ships and take them onward to European shores.

The new Italian government led by Giorgia Meloni believes that these humanitarian rescue operations end up encouraging more people to undertake the dangerous sea crossing, by reassuring them that they will be saved — and taken to Europe — even if their smugglers’ vessels prove unseaworthy.

Though she did not endorse this view, Johansson nodded to Italian concerns, saying that the international maritime law obligating countries to provide safe shelter to those rescued from emergencies at sea never anticipated the kind of dynamic that had emerged in the Mediterranean.

“The situation today with private vessels operating at sea is a scenario which still lacks sufficient clarity,” she said. “This kind of challenge was not thought of when maritime law was first agreed.”

Johansson said she had also recently travelled to Bangladesh — one of the top countries of origin for irregular arrivals into the EU, with 11,000 so far this year — in a bid to gain support from Dhaka for returning irregular Bangladeshi migrants. She said she now expected the pace of returns of Bangladeshi citizens without proper visas and work permits to accelerate.

But Johansson also asserted the importance of enhanced legal paths into Europe for foreign workers.

“We need also labour migration to the European Union, but it has to be in an orderly way and not via this dangerous route and irregular arrivals,” she said. “This is not a proper way to be arriving to the European Union.”

All this is likely to please Meloni’s government, which insists that it only wants to see a pragmatic, co-ordinated European response to the influx of irregular migrants, rather than being left alone to cope.

But while Italy’s perspective appears to have been seen and heard in Brussels, it remains to be seen to what extent this translates into action.

Chart du jour: Follow the bacon

Danish Crown, one of Europe’s leading meat companies, is shrugging off a looming recession and will invest millions in the UK despite “crazy” post-Brexit red tape, according to its chief executive. The reason: the UK is Europe’s biggest bacon consumer.

Supercompute away

Forget about the metaverse; the EU has the ambition to become a global player when it comes to the very machines that power such virtual realities, writes Javier Espinoza in Brussels.

In the technology race between the US and China Europe can have few claims to being ahead but, on supercomputers, it actually does have a head start. Two of the world’s most powerful computers are already up and running in the EU and a third machine, Leonardo, will come online in Bologna on Thursday. The EU has invested €60mn in this project (matched by Italy and five other EU countries), while the technology was provided by France’s Atos.

The US may have fewer such machines but it still holds the top spot for the world’s fastest supercomputer. Leonardo will be among the top five fastest globally, but EU officials hope that the next one sponsored by the bloc, Jupiter, will come out on top when it goes online in 2023.

So, what are some of the applications the EU wants to use its new shiny super computing power for?

  • Human brain We currently understand about 20-30 per cent of the human brain but with these new supercomputers, EU officials say, scientists could gain a full understanding of the entire brain.

  • Earth 2.0 By virtually replicating the entire planet, the new computing powers could help researchers model extreme weather situations and come up with faster ways to anticipate disasters.

  • Security shield Researchers will be able to develop digital replicas of sensitive infrastructure, such as nuclear plants, to figure out much faster ways to spot and fend off sabotage attempts.

Despite the EU’s ambitions, don’t expect China and the US to just sit back and let Europe leap ahead. China alone still has more supercomputers in the top 500 than the US, while Japan punches above its weight in terms of computing power. But Europe’s share is on the rise, with officials believing that the continent will at least have a shot in the next-generation technology race.

What to watch today

  1. European Commission college meets in Strasbourg

  2. Prime ministers of France, Belgium and Luxembourg speak at the European parliament’s 70th anniversary

  3. EU affairs ministers meet in Brussels on cohesion policy

Notable, Quotable

  • Turkish offensive: The Turkish president yesterday indicated his country could expand military operations in northern Syria to include a land incursion against Kurdish militants.

  • German hope: Prices charged by German industrial groups at the factory gate fell month on month for the first time in over two years in October, sparking hopes that consumer inflation in Europe’s largest economy might be close to peaking.

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Source: Financial Times