Last weekend, Italy’s anti-immigration Interior Minister Matteo Salvini denied landing rights to the Aquarius, and over the past week Italy has argued with Malta and France over the fate of its passengers.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s differences with her own Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, over migration policy is threatening an escalating coalition crisis.
During a recent visit to Berlin, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz declared that he, Mr Salvini and Mr Seehofer were an “axis of the willing” demanding a tougher stance on immigration.
Tensions over European migration policy, which has never truly been solved since nearly 2.5 million people applied for asylum during the crisis in 2015, have been widening, showing it to be as much a great fear for the fate of the bloc as the eurozone’s financial crisis.
The latest dispute in Italy now threatens a fragile easing of hostility over migration that has mainly held because of the steep fall in the number of people travelling across the Mediterranean.
Numbers have dropped significantly from one million in 2015 to 40,000 this year, but there are increasing fears that Europe is not prepared for the next migration crisis.
Izzy Leghtas, senior advocate for Europe for Refugees International, said: “It’s a big mess and they are all responsible for it. It just puts them to shame.”
When the Aquarius’s passengers dock in Valencia on Sunday, there are worries of more trouble, with far-right group Espana 2000 calling on members to gather at the port on Saturday night.
When asked what could be done to avoid a repeat of the Aquarius row, one diplomat said: “I do not see any solution at this point in time.
“Salving is on a triumph. Malta cannot accept them. Spain cannot keep accepting them.
The row over the Aquarius ship has reignited immigration tensions across the continent
The Aquarius row will intensify a debate at the EU summit later this month on efforts to overhaul asylum supply.
An attempt to change the EU’s ‘Dublin’ regulation, where states are responsible for asylum applicants, appears difficult to control, while central and European states have defied a push from Mediterranean countries for compulsory refugee resettlement quotas.
Mr Kurz, who governs the far-right Freedom party, wants Vienna to push harsh policies when it begins its six-month term as President next month and along with Danish counterpart Lars Lokke Rasmussen, have put forward an idea to send failed asylum seekers to a camp in a non-EU country.
But one diplomat said: “Unfortunately all of these interventions are pushing us away from a balanced debate.”
This piece originally appeared here