EU tensions flare over migrants as French President Emmanuel Macron blasts Italy

Macron told a cabinet meeting that under maritime law, "in cases of distress, those with the closest coastline have a responsibility to respond," spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said.

Published: 12th June 2018 07:19 PM  |   Last Updated: 12th June 2018 07:19 PM   |  A+A-

French President Emmanuel Macron | AP

By AFP

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday accused Italy of "cynicism and irresponsibility" over its refusal to take in hundreds of migrants stranded on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean.

Macron told a cabinet meeting that under maritime law, "in cases of distress, those with the closest coastline have a responsibility to respond," spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said.

"If a boat had France as its closest coast, it could land," Griveaux said. "France has done its bit, but what is unacceptable is the behaviour and political instrumentalisation of the Italian government."

Successive Italian governments have accused their European partners of leaving the country to cope on its own with an influx of 700,000 migrants from Africa since 2013. 

But Griveaux accused the new far-right/populist government in Rome of lacking solidarity after it refused to allow the migrant rescue boat Aquarius to land with more than 600 people on board.

"You can't create a precedent that will enable one European country to offload onto other European countries," he continued. "We need to show solidarity which Italy has not shown."

The new Italian government has pledged to deport hundreds of thousands of people living in the country illegally and stop boats carrying migrants from landing on its shores.

Macron has faced criticism from some leftist opposition parties and members of his own Republic on the Move party for not offering to take in the 600 people on board the Aquarius.

Spain has offered to take them in, which Macron praised during the cabinet meeting.

A spokesman for Macron's Republic on the Move party earlier said the Italian government's policy was "sickening." 

"The position, the line of the Italian government is sickening. It's unacceptable to play politics with human lives which is what is happening at the moment," Gabriel Attal told the Public Senat channel.

"I'm a spokesman for the party, not the government, but I can't imagine that France will not play a role in finding a humanitarian solution for this boat," he said.

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