European leaders reach migration deal after marathon overnight meeting.
European leaders have hashed out a deal on migration that has satisfied the Italian government’s hardline approach and potentially staved off the potential collapse of Angela Merkel’s coalition in Germany.
Several European leaders had told CNBC ahead of the marathon overnight meeting that they were not optimistic about reaching a deal. But in the early hours of Thursday morning, European Council Donald Tusk announced that all 28 leaders had signed off on a raft of new measures that were focused on strengthening both the bloc’s external borders and its internal controls.
Emmanuel Macron hailed the “European cooperation” that had allowed the often divergent viewpoints from across the continent to find some common ground.
But the conclusion text made it clear that it was the Italian authorities who had won the greatest number of concessions, after their delegation had proved particularly intransigent before and during the night of talks. Italian premier Giuseppe Conte left the meeting happy, he said, that “Italy is no longer alone.”
The agreement vowed to crack down aggressively on those involved in trafficking operations in Libya and elsewhere, while increasing support for the Libyan coastguard and boosting funds for affected communities. This will likely include regions like Sicily and remote Italian islands such as Lampedusa that have been frontline destinations for many migrant entries into Europe.
There was also an apparent fop to Italy’s new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who has burnished his political reputation as leader of the right-wing Lega party through criticism of Brussels’ approach to migration and a perceived lack of funding support for Italy.
The text included a line that vessels operating in the Mediterranean Sea must “not obstruct operations of the Libyan Coastguard.” On a recent visit to the Libyan capital Tripoli, Salvini repeated his long-held view that NGO vessels — responsible for rescuing hundreds of thousands of floundering migrants in recent years — provided a figurative but illegal “bridge” to Europe, and should cede patrols in North African coastal waters to local enforcement authorities.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean basin, greater numbers of migrants have been arriving in Spain from Morocco, and both those countries would receive ramped-up support under the terms of this deal.
And although many officials have highlighted the EU’s agreement with Turkey on migration as a success story, the Council’s conclusions include an insistence that Turkish authorities must completely halt migrant crossings into Greece, and prevent any new migrant routes — by sea or by land — from appearing.
The European Commission has separately been granted approval to spend a further 500 million euros on various initiatives in Africa, with a plan for EU member states to match that contribution in the coming months. Those efforts are designed to reduce the so-called “push factors” that drives some migrants to make the hazardous journey north across the Sahara and Mediterranean to the European Union .
In terms of the “pull factors” that European politicians see as incentivising economic migrants — as opposed to asylum seekers, who will still be afforded all legal protections due to them — this new plan calls for the establishment of processing centers in non-EU countries.
Search and rescue vessels that pluck migrants from the seas would theoretically ensure their passengers disembark at these locations, where authorities could then assess each new arrival’s status. Those that do successfully make it to European territory would be handled through a shared effort by those member states who are willing to accept them. This should provide an opportunity for countries like Germany to make bilateral agreements on resettlement quotas, but could also become a focus of future divisions.
Chancellor Merkel acknowledged after the talks ended that there was still “a lot of work to do to bridge the different views,” but said she it was “a good signal that we agreed on a common text.”