European Union leaders are gathering in Brussels today in an attempt to bridge their deep divisions over migration.
Though arrivals across the Mediterranean are only a fraction of what they were in 2015, when more than a million people reached Europe, a recent opinion poll showed migration was the top concern for the EU’s 500 million citizens.
Under heavy pressure from voters at home, EU leaders have been fighting bitter battles over how to share out asylum seekers in the bloc.
Unable to agree, they have become more restrictive on asylum and tightened their external borders to let fewer people in. They have given money and aid to countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East to keep people from heading for Europe.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday that EU states that benefited from the bloc yet considered only their own self-interest when it came to taking in migrants with proven asylum status should face financial penalties.
"You can't have countries that massively benefit from the solidarity of the European Union and that massively voice their national selfishness when it comes to migrant issues," he told a press conference in Paris alongside new Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
"I am in favour of sanctions being imposed in the event of no cooperation," he added.
Both Macron and Sanchez also spoke in favour of establishing closed reception centers, set up close to where migrants often arrive first in Europe, where migrants can be held while their applications for asylum are processed.
The centers would be created in accordance with guidelines from the UN's refugee agency UNHCR, Macron said. He said migrants not entitled to asylum should be returned directly to their countries of origin and not travel via other countries.
Italy said “arrogant” France risked becoming its “No.1 enemy” on migration issues.
In answer to comments by Macron, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said his words showed he was out of touch with reality.
“Italy indeed faces a migration emergency and it’s partly because France keeps pushing back people at the border. Macron risks making his country Italy’s No.1 enemy on this emergency,” Di Maio wrote on his Facebook page.
However, Italy’s Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said his country had faced 650,000 arrivals by sea over the past four years, 430,000 asylum requests and the hosting of 170,000 “alleged refugees” for an overall cost of more than 5 billion euros.
“If for the arrogant President Macron this is not a problem, we invite him to stop insulting and to show instead some concrete generosity by opening up France’s many ports and letting children, men and women through at Ventimiglia,” he said in a statement, referring to the northeastern Italian town at the border with France.