The German Foreign Office has finally allocated funds for civilian sea rescue. This is causing attacks on the chancellor. Italy’s foreign minister is coming to Berlin on Thursday.
There is no “debate” within the governmental coalition yet, as the “Handelsblatt” reports, but the parties are at odds: The Greens defend the allocation of public funds to aid organisations that rescue refugees who come across the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats. The vice-chairman of the Liberals (FDP), Wolfgang Kubicki, however, questions the support. It must be clarified whether this could cause diplomatic problems with close EU partners, he told the newspaper.
Last week, the German Foreign Office under Annalena Baerbock (Greens) announced the support of two organisations. The German association SOS Humanity, which operates the ship “Humanity 1”, will receive €790,000. This will enable them to cover a quarter of their annual budget. The Italian-based Catholic non-governmental organisation Sant’Egidio receives €420,000 for the care of rescued people on land.
Although Sant’Egidio is also funded by the Italian state, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni sees German funding as interference in domestic Italian affairs. She has therefore sent a letter to chancellor Olaf Scholz (Social Democratic Party, SPD). In it, she criticises the fact that the allocation of the “considerable funds” was not coordinated with the Italian government.
In her letter, the leader of the post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia party repeats the claim, contradicted even by her own politics, that the presence of rescue ships leads to the “multiplication” of boat departures. She is backed by Meloni’s party colleague and Defence Minister Guido Crosetto. He said at the weekend that Berlin was putting a friendly country in trouble. Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who is also leader of the right-wing liberal party Forza Italia, will travel to Berlin on Thursday and expects explanations from the German government.
However, the criticism of the German government and the chancellor comes too late and is directed at the wrong address: The Bundestag has already decided in 2021 to support civilian sea rescue with a total of €8 million. From 2023 to 2026, €2 million are to be disbursed annually. The Foreign Office is implementing these commitments.
Originally, it was not planned to also finance projects on land. Instead, the funds were to go to the United4Rescue association, in which various German organisations for sea rescue have joined forces. The distribution of the money was to be decided there. United4Rescue is itself involved in two rescue ships of the organisations SOS Humanity and Sea-Eye.
However, right-wing and conservative media have attacked the planned award to United4Rescue, specifically targeting a board member of the association who is in a relationship with Katrin Göring-Eckardt, a Green Party member of the Bundestag and vice-president of the German Bundestag.
The association does not want to speculate why it is now not directly funded. However, a spokesperson explained to “nd” that the fact that the individual organisations would have to apply directly to the Foreign Office for funds would increase the bureaucratic burden enormously for everyone.
Several applications had been received and were being examined, said a Foreign Office spokesperson in response to a question from “nd”. The remaining funds for this year would be allocated as soon as “all the necessary steps have been completed”.
The ministry also emphasises the necessity of financial support: Civilian sea rescuers perform a life-saving task in the central Mediterranean Sea with their ships, just like the Italian coast guard, according to the spokesperson. The Coast Guard actually take most people on board in the central Mediterranean, as “nd” learned, only about 10 per cent of the rescues are carried out by private organisations.
In their coalition agreement, the three ruling parties also emphasised that sea rescue should be a state task. “We strive for a state-coordinated and European-supported sea rescue in the Mediterranean,” it says. However, no initiatives for a state-run sea rescue have been taken by the German government so far. Meloni’s complaint to the chancellor provides another opportunity to do so. A spokesperson for the federal government confirms that the letter will be answered.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: One of the first beneficiaries of the funding from the Foreign Office is the German association SOS Humanity, which operates the rescue ship “Humanity 1” in the Mediterranean (SOS Humanity).