European Union strikes migration deal after marathon talks, but differences remain

29 Juin, 2018, 17:27 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau

However, much of the agreement - which comes amid an ongoing crisis over the influx of mainly North African and Middle Eastern refugees arriving by sea - is voluntary and it remains to be seen whether European Union member states will follow through.

Europe's leaders got the bitter taste of what anti-system diplomacy, or creative disruption means.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who heads a month-old populist and anti-immigration government, had vetoed joint statements for the entire agenda of the European Union summit until his demands were met. Also proposed were "controlled centers" that would handle those rescued at sea, identifying "irregular migrants" to be returned and refugees in need of protection under worldwide law.

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.

"Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", an Italian source added. "We are satisfied", Conte, a former law professor who until recently was a virtual political unknown, told reporters following marathon talks described as "virulent".

"It was a long negotiation but from today Italy is no longer alone".

He warned he might veto the conclusions on migration before later hardening his position to block all the conclusions, including on security and defence, jobs, growth and economic competitiveness.

The agreement further calls for efforts to break up people smuggling operations, and to be more aggressive in returning refugees who do not qualify for asylum. 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.

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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.

The 28 leaders agreed to consider setting up "disembarkation platforms" outside the bloc, most likely in north Africa, in a bid to discourage migrants boarding EU-bound smuggler boats.

But the political tremors are still being felt across Europe, with populist, anti-immigrant parties on the rise in many countries. "Such platforms should operate distinguishing individual situations, in full respect of worldwide law and without creating a pull factor".

Ex-communist easterners led by Poland and Hungary are still refusing to accept a share of the new arrivals to alleviate the burden on countries like Italy and Greece.

Leaders agreed that "controlled centres" could be set up in member states on a voluntary basis for "rapid and secure" processing to distinguish between irregular migrants and refugees eligible for asylum.

The draft only mentions secondary migration in point 10 of 11 points, saying that it jeopardizes the integrity of the passport-free Schengen area.

In parallel with decisions at European Union level, Merkel is reportedly seeking bilateral deals on managing these "secondary movements".

But the leaders failed to agree on long-stalled plans to overhaul the bloc's asylum rules, which say that migrants must be dealt with by the first country in which they arrive. It was not immediately known which countries would take part.

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