Following nearly ten hours of tense deliberation in search of a face-saving compromise, the EU leaders have agreed to allow member states to “voluntarily” obey the most controversial clauses of the migrant agreement.
Pressed by Italy’s concerns, eventually the 28 leaders agreed to reform the asylum system by consensus and to include a clause on hosting migrants across EU countries on a voluntary basis. Part of the agreement gives Italy and Greece options to set up migrant centers on their soil if they so choose.
“On EU territory, those who are saved, according to international law, should be taken charge of, on the basis of a shared effort, through the transfer in controlled centres set up in Member States, only on a voluntary basis, where rapid and secure processing would allow, with full EU support, to distinguish between irregular migrants, who will be returned, and those in need of international protection, for whom the principle of solidarity would apply,” the conclusions of the European Council meeting read. “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.”
The leaders also called for “the need for Member States to ensure the effective control of the EU’s external borders with EU financial and material support,” while underlining the “necessity to significantly step up” the return of migrants.
French President Emmanuel Macron spent part of Thursday in talks with Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte, trying to find a face-saving compromise for the EU. “It is European cooperation that has won the day,” he said, after tense negotiations. “Europe will have to live with migratory pressures for a long time. We must succeed in standing up to this challenge whilst being true to our values.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose ‘Open Door’ refugee policy has arguably contributed to the current migrant influx into Europe, welcomed the outcome of the negotiations, noting, however, that there is a lot more work to be done to overcome EU-wide differences.
“Overall, after an intensive discussion on the most challenging theme for the European Union, namely migration, it is a good signal that we agreed a common text,” Merkel said. “We still have a lot of work to do to bridge the different views.”
The talks, which concluded at about 4:30am Friday, also included an agreement to increase border security and speed up the process of handling the petitioner’s right to asylum and of extraditing those who don’t qualify. A key Italian demand, to overhaul the rules for distributing migrants when the port-of-entry country is overwhelmed, was reportedly also agreed on.
Earlier in the day, Giuseppe Conte had refused to approve an EU summit statement on the issue of migration. Italy, which has been at the frontline of the struggle to cope with the influx of refugees, demanded that EU states share the burden of handling migrants that come into that country via the Mediterranean.
Conte, who was appointed as Prime Minister on June 1, now leads a heavily eurosceptic government comprising two anti-establishment parties, Lega Nord and the Five-Star Movement. The stance, by this first-time attendee of a European Union summit, forced Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to cancel a news conference planned for Thursday evening.