Italy threatens to block joint EU statement on migration

BRUSSELS • Italy's hardline new premier has threatened to block a joint European Union statement on migration at a summit that embattled German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned could decide the bloc's fate.

Rome has recently refused to let several migrant rescue boats dock at Italian ports, reviving fresh tensions despite the fact that numbers of arrivals have dipped sharply since the height of Europe's migration crisis in 2015.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who heads Italy's month-old populist and anti-immigration government, said he would refuse to endorse the conclusions of the meeting in Brussels if fellow leaders fail to do more to help Italy.

"Italy does not need more words, but concrete actions," Mr Conte told reporters as he arrived at the summit. "It's a possibility I hope not to consider, but if we reach that point, on my behalf we will not have shared conclusions."

Italy comes to the EU gathering emboldened by the announcement that Mr Conte will on July 30 visit United States President Donald Trump, who has hailed Rome's tough stance, and who himself blocked the conclusions of a recent G-7 leaders meeting on trade.

The EU summit is taking place amid warnings that authoritarian and "anti-European" movements will profit from any failure by the 28 leaders to deal with a flare-up of tensions over migrants that has put Dr Merkel's political future in the balance.

"Europe has many challenges but migration could end up determining Europe's destiny," Dr Merkel told German lawmakers hours ahead of the summit.

The bloc can decide to "overcome the challenge in a way that people in Africa or elsewhere believe that we are guided by our values", she said.

Or, she added, in a manner where "no one will believe in our value system that has made us so strong."

Dr Merkel, for years Europe's most powerful leader, now risks seeing her fragile coalition collapse if she cannot reach migrant deals with other countries.

After allowing more than one million asylum seekers into Germany since 2015, Dr Merkel faces an end-of-the-month deadline from her own Interior Minister to seal pacts that would let Germany turn back asylum seekers already registered in other EU states.

The leaders hope at the summit to approve work on migrant "disembarkation platforms" in countries outside Europe, most likely in Africa, according to a draft prepared by EU President Donald Tusk. In a bone to Dr Merkel, the leaders will also agree to "closely cooperate" on stopping secondary movements of migrants, according to draft summit conclusions, although the language may be weaker than she would have hoped.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2018, with the headline 'Italy threatens to block joint EU statement on migration'. Print Edition | Subscribe