Hard deal saves European unity

Italian PM Conte scores up first victory in Brussels, blocking temporarily the summit conclusions on defence, trade, budget

Photo: Photo: AP During the EU summit, French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel often conferred in order to reconcile their positions.

On the migration issue, one of the hottest items at the last sitting before the summer recess of the European Council, leaders overcame the divisions and stopped hardening the rift between the Member States. But the deal on this sensitive issue was not quite so easy to reach. The big drama started on the first day of the summit, held in Brussels on 28 and 29 June, when Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, took a drastic move to block the conclusions of the first working session dedicated on security and defence, trade, jobs, competitiveness, innovation and digitalisation, enlargement, and EU's future long-term budget. He insisted the responsibility for migrants reaching Italy's sea coast on boats throughout the Mediterranean to be apportioned among all EU countries.

On the migration issue, one of the hottest items at the last sitting before the summer recess of the European Council, leaders overcame the divisions and stopped hardening the rift between the Member States. But the deal on this sensitive issue was not quite so easy to reach.

The big drama started on the first day of the summit, held in Brussels on 28 and 29 June, when Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, took a drastic move to block the conclusions of the first working session dedicated on security and defence, trade, jobs, competitiveness, innovation and digitalisation, enlargement, and EU's future long-term budget. He insisted the responsibility for migrants reaching Italy's sea coast on boats throughout the Mediterranean to be apportioned among all EU countries. Upon arrival he told reporters that “Italy wants all words of solidarity with his country to be transferred into deeds”.

This not only shocked other leaders but deprived them from night sleep, and was a reason some journalists to assume that the nightmares of the overnight summits from Van Rompuy's era are back. The evening news conference of the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, Donald Tusk and President Jean-Claude Juncker, was cancelled and shifted to the next day, at the end of the programme. According to the preliminary agenda, the migration 'hot potato' was left for the dinner menu.

An hour before the kickoff of the summit, Tusk stressed that he will suggest the leaders to focus on the EU's external border, including the disembarkation platforms project. Some may think I am too tough in my proposals on migration, he said, adding: “But trust me, if we don't agree on them, then you will see some really tough proposals from some really tough guys.”

Asked at the doorsteps whether he worries about eventual Italian veto on the summit's conclusions, EC President Juncker said “no”, noting that he is worrying about the situation on the coasts of Italy. We need to show solidarity, he asserted.

EP President Antonio Tajani told leaders that the immediate priority right now is to close the Mediterranean route, strengthen the external borders and reform the European asylum system. In parallel, we must support the stabilisation of Libya, finance centres for the support of asylum seekers in transit countries, and invest in Africa to provide opportunities for young Africans in their own countries, he opined.

The breakthrough came after nearly 14 hours. At 4:30 on Friday morning, PM Conte scored up his first victory in Brussels. It was assumed as a victory for the V4 as well.

Leaders agreed on an approach to migration which combines more effective control of the EU's external borders, increased external action, as well as on the internal aspects.

It was underlined that since 2015, after a number of measures have been put in place for effective control of the EU's external borders, the number of detected illegal crossings into the EU has been brought down by 95%.

Concerning 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, conclusions read.

Furthermore, all 28 leaders admitted that the EU 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 heads of state and government confirmed that additional efforts are needed to fully implement the deal with Turkey and to prevent new crossings from Turkey, and bring the flows to a halt.

They asserted that the EU-Turkey readmission agreement and the bilateral readmission agreements should be fully implemented.

The Council and the Commission were called 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.

People who are saved, should be transferred in controlled centres set up in Member States, only on a voluntary basis, and irregular migrants will be returned.

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