The remains of a shipwrecked boat that sank last year, killing at least 868 people, should be placed in front of European Union buildings as a memorial against "selfishness," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi suggested Friday.
The April 18, 2015 accident is considered the deadliest in recent Mediterranean history. Some 28 survivors and 24 bodies were found immediately, while the others were only recovered following deep water searches and a decision to pull the ship up from the seabed.
"Europe must change its approach ... on migration," Renzi said in a World Food Day speech at the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, which is headquartered in Rome.
"National selfishness prevails in the EU, but Europe was born to pull down walls, not to put them up. This is why I will propose that the ship we recovered in 2015 be placed before the seat of European institutions," the Italian leader said.
"I'd like that wreck to be there, to remind us how to combat selfishness," he added.
After the tragedy, Renzi made it a point of national pride to recover the ship from a depth of nearly 400 metres, so as to extract the hundreds of bodies trapped inside; attempt to identify them; and give them a proper burial.
The Italian navy first recovered 169 bodies using remotely operated devices. A further 675 body bags, which may contain more than one victim, were extracted after the wreck was lifted and towed in June to a NATO military base in Sicily, a spokeswoman for the navy said.
The Italian premier's suggestion to turn the shipwreck into a Brussels memorial - which had already circulated in the Italian media - seemed to catch the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, off guard.
"To be honest I would have to check with [Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker] what he thinks about this idea. I wasn’t aware of this idea with the boat," spokesman Alexander Winterstein told reporters.
Winterstein stressed, however, that Juncker had been in the forefront of calls for more intra-EU solidarity on migration.
After the tightening of controls on the Greek-Turkey sea route earlier this year, Italy has become the main landing point for EU-bound boat migrants. More than 144,500 arrived in the year to date, compared with 132,000 in a roughly similar period of last year.
Renzi's complaints that the EU was not doing enough to help Italy and other frontline states have recently grown louder.
He has asked for a derogation from EU deficit rules to meet the cost of the migration crisis - as well of the damage from a massive earthquake in August - and proposed to cut EU funding to countries which refuse to take in refugees.