07. August 2013 · Kommentare deaktiviert für Malta: blockiertes Flüchtlingsschiff nach Italien – Kommentar Malta Today · Kategorien: Italien, Libyen, Malta · Tags: , ,

All’s well that ends well?

Joseph Muscat comes out politically stronger thanks to the Italian intervention to disembark 102 migrants in Syracuse. But had it not been for Italy he would have had egg on his face.


Thanks to the timely intervention of the Italian government, Joseph Muscat’s sabre-rattling on immigration has politically paid off. His intransigence to refuse the disembarkation of 102 migrants left Italy with no choice but to intervene to avert a humanitarian tragedy just outside Maltese territorial waters.

Ultimately, although Malta and Italy had a strong legal argument that the ship should have taken the migrants to the nearest safe harbour after the rescue, the humanitarian aspect should have prevailed from day one. Simply put, legal litigation with the ship-owners can be pursued after the migrants are disembarked safely.

Surely the situation was risky. Just imagine what would have happened if Roberto Maroni was still Italy’s home affairs minister… what if Italy had remained intransigent like Malta? For although Italy has its responsibilities in this case, having been the country which ordered the M/T Salamis to rescue the migrants in the first place, the ship was just outside our territorial waters.

Once again, thanks to the government’s sabre-rattling which saw the PM tweeting his threats against the ship captain without any reference to the human tragedy on board, Malta was in the international media’s spotlight for the wrong reasons. Had the Italians not intervened we would have edged closer to becoming an international pariah.

But in politics, what counts are results, and Muscat can project the current saga as a political victory. For the migrants are now safe in Italy while Malta did not budge one inch from its position. Probably he did so in the knowledge that the Italians will ultimately take responsibility. In this sense Muscat seems to excel in political brinkmanship, appearing strong with the xenophobic crowd.

But so far he… has not stained his hands with migrants‘ blood.

Because posturing as some kind of latter-day Churchill tweeting his battles also carries the risk of fanning the flames of xenophobia and racism domestically, and putting the international spotlight on Malta as some redneck outpost.

Moreover, in this particular case he risked putting Malta in the worse possible position, that of a country bickering with a ship captain to refuse entry to 102 human beings. For the second consecutive time, after the botched pushbacks, Muscat showed his strength by penalising migrants and not by taking any decisive action at EU level.

Had it not been for Italy, Muscat would have had egg on his face.

Surely, Muscat is perfectly right in expecting the EU to shoulder its responsibilities.

And in this case he may well claim that he has forced Italy to shoulder a part of Malta’s burden.

But his hawkish attitude may well be counterproductive in his bid to create any long-term solution, which has to be decided at a supra-national level. Bullies may be sometimes accommodated, but they also risk being written off as a fastidious nuisance or irritation.

The idea that the Maltese are getting is that international diplomacy is some sort of dog-eat-dog world where intransigence pays off. But will it always pay off? For without resorting to gunboat diplomacy, Malta has got a good deal from Europe especially with regards to funding. Even on migration Malta has benefited from over €100 million in funding. Had it not been an EU member, Malta would be facing this problem alone. In fact it seems that Malta expects all the benefits of membership, while withholding its humanitarian obligations.

The peaceful resolution of the battle of Salamis has also saved Simon Busuttil’s face. He supported Muscat’s stance and gave it legitimacy, even when he risked becoming an accomplice in a humanitarian tragedy. So he avoided being labelled as some ’national traitor‘ by the right-wing mob, while failing to stand up to be counted on a crucial issue. His party’s stance sidelined the humanitarian aspect completely by emphasising solely the issue of legal responsibilities.

Busuttil may feel vindicated, perhaps having known all along that the Italians would save the day for Muscat, but his stature emerges diminished at least in the eyes of sane liberals and humanist voters.

Ultimately, the greatest risk of the Salamis affair is that it will continue to fan the flames of xenophobia and raise the expectations of those whose goal is to stop any boat carrying asylum seekers from reaching Malta.

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