The French and Italian leaders have agreed to work together to push for changes to the European Union’s migration rules after previously disagreeing on the issue.
President Emmanuel Macron and Premier Giuseppe Conte said EU regulations requiring asylum-seekers to apply in the first country they enter and remain there while their cases are processed were not working.
Mr Macron said the policy and others have left Italy, usually the first European country reached on the route across the Mediterranean from North Africa, without the support that is supposed to be a benefit of a united Europe.
“The proper response is European, but the existing European response has not adapted,” said the French leader, seen as strongly pro-EU.
Mr Conte, who heads the populist, anti-EU government that took over Italy on June 1, echoed “my friend Emmanuel”.
“The concept itself of the ‘state of first entry’ must be rethought. He who puts his feet in Italy puts his feet in Europe,” said Mr Conte, who was a law professor before he became premier.
They both called for steps to beef up Europe’s borders to prevent illegal immigration after meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris.
Mr Macron cited an initiative of his government last year to establish “protection missions” that pre-screen asylum-seekers in Chad and Niger to prevent citizens risking the sea journey.
Mr Conte said Italy is working on a proposal for a “radical paradigm change” in Europe’s approach to managing mass migration that includes creating “hotspots” in the most common countries of origin and departure to identify asylum candidates.
These “centres of European protection” would “anticipate and speed up identification and requests for asylum”, he said.
The meeting between Macron and Conte almost did not take place after the president offered a harsh assessment of Italy’s refusal to accept a private rescue ship carrying 629 migrants.
Mr Macron accused the new Italian government of “cynicism” and “irresponsible” behaviour.
The migrants who were rescued last Saturday remained at sea on Friday.
Italy denied the Aquarius a place to dock, insisting it was Malta’s responsibility. After Malta also refused and pointed the ship to Italy, Spain’s new Socialist prime minister offered the passengers safe harbour on Monday.
The Aquarius is en route to Valencia, where it is expected to arrive on Sunday.
Standing alongside Mr Macron, Mr Conte said it was “time to turn the page” on the diplomatic tensions over the ship and to tackle the larger migration quagmire.