Reuters – Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday a draft EU accord on migration had been withdrawn after he clashed with Chancellor Angela Merkel over an issue that is splitting Europe.
The withdrawn declaration had been drafted by Germany and France, ahead of an emergency meeting of 10 EU leaders set for Sunday in Brussels, with Germany and France hoping for a swift deal. The meeting, to be attended by Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Malta, Bulgaria, Belgium and the Netherlands was expected to approve the proposals before moving to a full summit the following week.
“If we are going to Brussels to receive the HOMEWORK already prepared by the French and Germans… the prime minister would do better to save the cost of the trip,” Italian Interior Minister Salvini tweeted.
The draft contained key elements Merkel needs to placate her rebellious coalition partner, the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU) and its head, Horst Seehofer, who is also Germany’s interior minister, namely that asylum seekers would have to be returned to the EU country they had first logged their claim in, which often means Italy or Greece.
Rome has taken in some 650,000 boat migrants over the past five years, stoking anti-immigration sentiment in Italy and fueling the rise of the far-right League, which forged a coalition government this month.
Conte, who had threatened not to go to Brussels on Sunday unless the draft was amended, spoke to Merkel on Thursday.
“The chancellor clarified that there had been a ‘misunderstanding’. The draft text released yesterday will be shelved,” Conte wrote on Facebook, adding that he would now go to Brussels at the weekend.
Berlin played down the dispute. “We are in constructive talks with Italy. The meeting on Sunday has only preparatory character,” a German government source said.
Italian authorities appeared to relent on Thursday after at first refusing to accept 226 migrants on board a German rescue ship, saying later in the day they would take them in but will impound the vessel.
Interior minister Matteo Salvini initially said the Dutch-flagged Lifeline should take the people it had plucked from the Mediterranean to the Netherlands, not Italy.
But transport minister Danilo Toninelli, who oversees the coastguard, later said it was unsafe for the 32-metre vessel to travel so far with so many people on board.
Most are in coastal states of arrival like Italy and Greece, wanting to move to rich destination states like Germany and Sweden, where governments have felt the heat from voters over the new arrivals.
EU states to the east are refusing to take migrants in. Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday hosted a meeting of the “Visegrad 4” former Communist countries, with the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Unless all EU states agree at their looming June 28-29 summit to share out asylum seekers more evenly, Seehofer has threatened to introduce an entry ban on the German border for all those who have already registered for asylum elsewhere.
Merkel opposes that idea as it would require rigid checks on the EU’s mostly open internal borders. Many would see such checks as reversing a key success story of European integration.