Blog AnalysisMediterranean seaMissions Operations

'Ite missa est' for Operation Sophia?

(B2) Is mass said for the future of Operation Sophia? Listening to Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Commissioner responsible for Migration, we are not far from the end... even if he still defends its usefulness. And this pessimism is not contradicted by the facts of which B2 is aware

(credit: Spanish Armada)

The Commissioner responsible for Migration (of Greek nationality) was in front of the press this Wednesday (January 23) at noon to report on the meeting of the college (European Commission). In 2015, he was one of the first (with Federica Mogherini) to defend the usefulness of the European Union's maritime operation to combat trafficking in the Mediterranean (aka EUNAVFOR Med or Sophia). Today, the future seems bleak.

Let's have faith in the operation

« The faith » in the operation is intact assured the commissioner. “ Operation Sophia is a success. Thanks to this operation, we have seen the number of smugglers decrease. We were thus able to discourage people from traveling in a dangerous manner in the Mediterranean.. " And " in my opinion, this operation will have to continue”. NB: a point of view, officially shared by the Union Defense Ministers.

A German blow

The German withdrawal from the operation (read: Germany withdraws from Operation Sophia) is a big blow. But the commissioner does not let anything appear. “ The withdrawal of the German ship [the frigate Augsburg] was planned for February. Germany continues to participate in the operation. Nothing says that a ship will not be made available in the future. »

If Italy wants to stop, it's up to it to decide

On the future of the operation, Dimitris Avramopoulos is more discreet. That " depends on the Member States. It's up to them to make the decision in the end. ". And to admit: “ If Italy, which is in control of the operation, decides to stop the operation, it is its decision » (1). It's clear, it's frank, and it's reality.

Is the end of the operation inevitable?

A highly political issue

In practice, everyone knows, " there is a problem, well known, which has nothing to do with the operation » as a European diplomat reminded B2. This involves having a global agreement on the migration package (the Dublin mechanism), the distribution of asylum seekers in the countries, and possibly having a mechanism for the temporary distribution of refugees and migrants disembarked from boats. “ Contacts are ongoing between Member States we were assured.

No possible solution before March?

In fact, time is running out. The operation has been extended until March 31. And, for the moment, the point is neither on the agenda of the informal meeting of the Ministers of Defense or Foreign Affairs (at the end of January in Bucharest) nor of the ambassadors of the Political and Security Committee. The question is highly political. Must wait … " the european summit in march confides to me a good connoisseur of the file. " We will then see if the heads of state and government "are able to" find a solution ».

A challenge in the electoral maelstrom

The bets are open. But in the corridors, it is difficult to find an optimist. " In recent months, despite all efforts, it has been impossible to find a solution »continues our source. The renewal of the operation in December for just three months was done with forceps (read: The Christmas present of the 28. Operation Sophia extended by three months). And " Unless there is a major change, I don't see what could change the situation ". On the contrary, the longer we delay, the closer we get to the election deadline. The more difficult it is likely to be ».

Farewell Sophia?

In a few weeks, and even more so in March, we will be in the middle of an electoral maelstrom. In this context, for Matteo Salvini and other Italian officials, stopping Operation Sophia looks like a blessing in disguise. We can both criticize the operation as a facilitator of the entry of migrants (NB: which is false), pride ourselves on having forced the Europeans to lower their flag and shout a little national codiness (2). So easy that it would be stupid to deprive yourself of it.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, with Leonor Hubaut)

  1. Enzo Moavero Milanesi, the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, saw fit to react: “ Italy never requested the closure of Sophia. [We have] called for a modification of the rules relating to the disembarkation of people rescued at sea, in strict and appropriate consistency with the conclusions of the European Council of June 2018. The agreements of April 2015 provide that they are still disembarked in Italy, while last June's European Council urged EU countries to fully share all migrant-related burdens »
  2. Even if Italian boats go back to work under the green, white, red banner

Read also: Does Rome want to kill Operation Sophia? Paris secretly nods

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).