During talks in Brussels that wrapped up after 4:30 a.m. Friday, member states agreed to increase border security, set up holding centres to handle asylum seekers and to speed up the process of determining whether people have the right to asylum and expelling those who don’t. Leaders also pledged to overhaul the rules for distributing migrants when a gateway country is overwhelmed, a key Italian demand.
It remains unclear whether the agreement will be sufficient to help Angela Merkel stave off a revolt by her Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, which could deprive her of a parliamentary majority. Early signs were promising as Hans Michelbach, a deputy CSU leader — and a moderate within the party — welcomed the deal.
Refugee flows have actually declined sharply since a surge in 2015.
In the run up to the talks, Conte’s populist administration sparred with Spain and particularly France over its decision to bar migrant rescue ships from docking in Italian ports. Yet as the negotiations dragged on through dinner in Brussels, French President Emmanuel Macron had a key role in shepherding the settlement.
Much remains opaque about the deal, however, not least whether it has any more chance of being implemented than previous attempts at burden sharing. The promise of new EU money to combat illegal migration may help oil the wheels.
Heading into the talks, Conte threatened to block the summit’s entire agenda unless he got the support he wants. In the end, he surpassed anything his predecessors had extracted in years of pleading since the immigration crisis flared in 2015. Spain won recognition of the renewed challenge in the western Mediterranean.
The German troubles represent the tip of a deeper political crisis in Europe as advocates of a harder line in countries including Austria, Italy and in eastern Europe since the momentum is with them to push their case. In a speech to the Bundestag earlier on Thursday, Merkel warned that the issue of migration “may well turn into a question of the EU’s destiny.”
As she left the summit, Merkel smiled wearily and hailed the agreement as a “positive message.” Macron said it offered a coherent approach to the phenomenon of migration.