Berlin / Brussels (dpa) - Horst Seehofer is not afraid of big words. After agreeing on a maritime rescue procedure with his colleagues from France, Italy and Malta in September, he proclaimed nothing less than a "test for the European Union".
And because nothing had preceded the topic for months before, the German Interior Minister (CSU) said that the test had been passed, at least for the time being. "Now we have to see that we confirm that in the next few months." Six weeks ago that was Monday - has something really happened since then?
The recent cases of rescue from the sea at least raise doubts. In any case, the Malta Agreement of 23 September was no more than the lowest common denominator of four states with disparate interests. Malta, Italy and France were unwilling to commit to quotas, and so far no other country has publicly joined the agreement. However, states such as Ireland, Portugal and Luxembourg had previously been involved in the reception of boat migrants - just on a case-by-case basis and not according to a fixed quota.
For politically, the issue is explosive for almost every government. Seehofer has also brought the Malta agreement fierce home, especially in the Union. It is only a very small proportion of the migrants who arrive in Europe - those who are rescued in the central Mediterranean. Seehofer always refers to the very manageable numbers: From June 2018 to mid-October 2019, not even 230 boat migrants came to Germany.
The big win of the Malta agreement was that migrants on board would no longer have to wait days and weeks for Malta and Italy to assign them a safe haven. After all, in the deadlocked European migration policy, that would be progress. At the beginning of October, Seehofer said at the meeting of the interior ministers that the agreement had been in force since 23 September: "If a ship appeared off the Italian coast, we would be prosecuted under this agreement by Malta."
But on October 18, the Ocean Viking rescued 104 people from the Libyan coast - and waited and waited and waited. Only after twelve days did the Italian authorities assign the ship a safe haven on Tuesday. The same happened to the German "Alan Kurdi", who had saved dozens of migrants on 26 October. Only a week later, the ship was allowed to dock in Italy. On Sunday, people finally landed in Taranto, southern Italy.
Correspondingly large is the criticism of Seehofer's supposed success of Malta: "Obviously, there is no agreement, these are all lip service," says Gorden Isler, spokesman for the aid organization Sea Eye. And Green MEP Erik Marquardt says: "This seems to have been more of a press conference than a solution." He also welcomed the deal in September. In the end, Seehofer's mouth was too full.
At first, things went well after the Malta agreement. Twice the "Ocean Viking" was able to head to an Italian port very quickly. But why does not the agreement take effect a few weeks later? Why did the "Ocean Viking" and the "Alan Kurdi" have to wait so long before they were allowed to enter a port?
In the case of the "Ocean Viking" Italy had disturbed a long stay of the ship in Libyan waters, it said earlier this week from participants of the G6 interior ministers meeting in Munich. This would provide an incentive for tugs to send boats with migrants from Libya. His Italian counterpart, Luciana Lamorgese, said she was watching the situation in Libya very closely, Seehofer said. "At the moment when this is no longer sea rescue, but a taxi service, a point is set here. But that is not achieved at the moment. "
In addition, the election in Umbria in Italy played a role. The ruling parties of the left center might not want to provide campaign support for the right-wing Lega, and of course just before the election, allow entry into a port. If that was the case, it did not work out: the candidate of the Lega won the absolute majority of the votes on Sunday. Whether the Malta agreement really works, must therefore prove yet.
Seehofer and other European interior ministers are worried that they could intensify the unregulated refugee movements to Europe by their own initiative. They point to criminal traffickers and smugglers who take their customers out and put them in mortal danger. Sea Rescuers are suspected by some ministers to be working with Libyan smugglers.
That is why Seehofer recently advocated a Code of Conduct for Sea Rescue. He did not name details, but he's already met with resistance: "We do not see any misconduct with us," says Isler of Sea Eye. The rescuers kept to international laws without compromising - and made no concessions there. An agreement, for example, according to which the rescue ships only spend a certain amount of time in front of the Libyan coast, is unimaginable.
Gorden Isler on Twitter