EU leaders reached a much-needed deal on steps to tackle migration after resolving a bitter row with Italy’s inexperienced prime minister. Extended talks lasted through the night and only wrapped up on Friday morning (29 June).
Europe’s leaders got the bitter taste of what anti-system diplomacy, or creative disruption means. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who heads Italy’s month-old populist and anti-immigration government, took the entire summit as hostage.
Conte blocked the summit conclusions in a bid to get his reluctant counterparts to share responsibility for asylum seekers landing on Italian shores.
A summit ending without conclusions would have been a political disaster with unpredictable negative consequences for the EU bloc, so the stakes were high
Former law professor Conte, until recently a virtual political unknown, came to Brussels emboldened by the announcement of an upcoming visit to Washington to visit US President Donald Trump, who has hailed Rome’s tough stance, and who himself blocked the conclusions of a recent G7 leaders meeting on trade.
The summit which is expected to end today by noon, was called the “mother of all summits”, in particular because of the potential impact on the political future of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is wrestling to preserve her fragile government at home.
“Europe has many challenges but migration could end up determining Europe’s destiny,” Merkel told German lawmakers hours ahead of the summit.
There are very few migrants arriving in Germany recently but Merkel’s conservative CSU ally warned it would send back migrants who reach the German border after having registered in other EU states.
Such a move could see a domino effect of re-introduction of internal borders and the collapse of the Schengen area.
In contrast, Italy is actually under migratory pressure from the so-called Central Mediterranean route with significant numbers of arrivals salvaged at sea and brought to its ports.
Since the new government took over, Italy has refused to let several migrant rescue boats dock at Italian ports, reopening EU divisions.
“Italy does not need more words, but concrete actions,” Conte told reporters as he arrived at the summit, adding that if EU leaders did not offer more help “we will not have shared conclusions”.
Italy wants the responsibility for migrants on ships arriving on its shores to be shared out across the 28-nation European Union.
Drama at summit
European Council spokesman Preben Aamann said that after several hours of talks, conclusions on all issues from the summit – which is also dealing with trade and defence in addition to the core subject of migration – had been blocked.
“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” an Italian source added.
Other sources said the other 27 EU leaders were “astonished” and unhappy over Italy hardening its position and that “it was a very virulent discussion and everyone jumped on the Italian”.
— Jakub Dospiva (@JakubDospiva) June 28, 2018
Twelve hours after talks began, at 4.30 CET, Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter that “EU28 leaders have agreed on… conclusions” including migration.
EU28 leaders have agreed on #euco conclusions incl. migration.
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) June 29, 2018
French President Emmanuel Macron said that “European cooperation enabled this”.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) June 29, 2018
Conte said his country was “no longer alone” and “we are satisfied”.
The ten-page summit conclusions contain three and a half pages on migration, while the rest, dedicated to other issues such as security and defence and trade, were agreed much earlier.
The agreed language remains vague. It says that as regards the Central Mediterranean route, efforts to stop smugglers operating out of Libya or elsewhere should be further intensified.
“The EU will continue to stand by Italy and other frontline Member States in this respect. It will step up its support for the Sahel region, the Libyan Coastguard, coastal and Southern communities, humane reception conditions, voluntary humanitarian returns, cooperation with other countries of origin and transit, as well as voluntary resettlement. All vessels operating in the Mediterranean must respect the applicable laws and not obstruct operations of the Libyan Coastguard”, the conclusions read.
A Pyrrhus victory for Italy? That’s what close read of the #EUCO conclusions suggests. It won’t be the “shared effort” language to save Italy, nor “controlled centers” still to be set. Rather the focus on “secondary movements” will make Italy’s situation worse-off @davcarretta https://t.co/ovErlSWe9J
— Alberto Alemanno (@alemannoEU) June 29, 2018
New money for the EU-Turkey deal?
The summit agreed to launch the second tranche under the EU-Turkey deal of July 2016, although it omits to mention its price tag of €3 billion. At the same time it agrees to release €500 million to the EU’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, which was a condition by Italy raised before the summit.
The agreed text indicates that some member states consider that Turkey applies in a discriminatory way the EU-Turkey readmission agreement and the bilateral readmission agreements should be fully implemented in a non-discriminatory manner towards all member states.
Tusk has proposed that the leaders approve work on migrant “disembarkation platforms” in countries outside Europe, most likely in Africa. The agreed text says:
“The European Council calls on the Council and the Commission to swiftly explore the concept of regional disembarkation platforms, in close cooperation with relevant third countries as well as UNHCR and IOM. Such platforms should operate distinguishing individual situations, in full respect of international law and without creating a pull factor.”
Former communist countries in Eastern Europe, particularly the authoritarian governments of Hungary and Poland, implacably oppose the relocation of migrants.
In this respect, the conclusions state that future transfers will be made on a voluntary basis, distinguishing between irregular migrants, who will be returned, and those in need of international protection, for whom the principle of solidarity would apply.
“All the measures in the context of these controlled centres, including relocation and resettlement, will be on a voluntary basis, without prejudice to the Dublin reform,” say the conclusions, which in another paragraph mention that the reform of the EU asylum system is postponed until the October EU summit.
The so-called “secondary movements” of migrants between EU countries were the major concern of Merkel and the agreed text reads:
“Concerning the situation internally in the EU, secondary movements of asylum seekers between Member States risk jeopardising the integrity of the Common European Asylum System and the Schengen acquis. Member States should take all necessary internal legislative and administrative measures to counter such movements and to closely cooperate amongst each other to that end.”
In parallel with decisions at EU level, Merkel is reportedly seeking bilateral deals on managing these “secondary movements”. However, countries commit to take back refugees who are crossing their borders in present times, when their number is very low.
Nobody is impressed about the vague nature of #EUCO conclusions on #migrationEU Why? 1. What “shared effort” means? 2. Which Member States will host the “controlled centers”? 3. Whose authority will distinguish “individual situations”? 4.The word “voluntary basis” comes twice pic.twitter.com/ArIs5KWFry
— Alberto Alemanno (@alemannoEU) June 29, 2018