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A row over accepting migrants took central stage during a meeting of European Union defense and foreign ministers. Italy is threatening to pull the plug if its demands are not met.
Italy called for immediate changes to the EU's Operation Sophia during the EU-wide summit of defense and foreign ministers in Vienna on Thursday. Rome, which currently commands the naval effort, wants other EU states to open their ports and allow migrants to disembark on their territories.
Following the Tuesday meeting, EU defense ministers pledged their support to the mission, but no one offered their ports as disembarkation sites.
With little immediate sign of a compromise in sight, the row could jeopardize the EU's anti-trafficking mission in the Mediterranean.
What is the Sophia row about?
Reactions at the conference
Why Vienna was seen as an opportunity: Italian authorities have been repelling migrants rescued at sea in a bid to pressure the 28-nation bloc to accept more responsibility for the crisis. Last week, Rome threatened to cease billons of euros over the row. Recently, Italy only allowed some 140 stranded migrants to disembark after Ireland and non-EU member Albania agreed to take some of them. "The ball will be in the EU camp: by accepting our proposal it will have the opportunity to show it is a real community of values and intentions; by refusing it will deny its own fundamental principles," Italian Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.
The EU's standpoint: In line with international law, the EU insists that migrants rescued by the bloc's naval mission in the Mediterranean must be brought to a safe port. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen appealed to Italy not to hijack Operation Sophia. "It is also a question of credibility and the reliability of the European mission. We brought it into being. It runs until the end of the year. And it must continue until the end of the year," she told reporter
According to DW correspondent Barbara Wesel, the EU defense ministers "feel blackmailed" by Italy over Operation Sophia. A lack of consensus among the EU states could put an end to sea recuses for migrants coming from Libya, said Wesel.
What happens after the Vienna meeting? As the impasse continues, the issue will probably end up with the EU heads of state and government at their summit in Salzburg on September 20.
dj/kms (AFP, Reuters)