EU fails to reach crucial deal on migration crisis at 'mini-summit'
Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, the European Union's two most influential leaders, met yesterday with their bitterly divided counterparts for a frustrating "mini-summit" in Brussels, while facing plunging popularity at home.
The German chancellor, whose political future is under threat unless she can wrest deals from her opposite numbers in Europe, had already conceded the mini-summit of 16 nations would not bridge huge splits over migration policy ahead of a full European Council meeting next week.
Italy's new hardline government has refused to admit foreign-flagged rescue ships packed with hundreds of migrants and pledged not to take in one more asylum seeker.
Yesterday in Brussels, Giuseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, slapped the richer northern EU countries with a 10-point list of demands.
Rome called for migrant "protection centres" to be set up in several EU countries to relieve overcrowding in its facilities and demanded more aid for African countries that fight human trafficking.
It also called for countries refusing to take their share of migrants under a controversial quota scheme to lose EU funding. The document warned that the future of the EU's cherished passport-free Schengen zone was at stake.
Before the summit, Italy branded Mr Macron "public enemy number one" after the French president said there was no "crisis" of migration in Italy because migrant boat arrivals are down 80pc on last year.
There has been a sharp decrease in migrant arrivals since their peak in 2015, when more than one million Syrians entered the bloc. EU cooperation deals with Turkey and Libya, the main transit countries, have sharply cut the flow of migrants.
In Brussels, Mr Macron said: "It's a political crisis mainly now."
Italy and Austria have joined the four Visegrad countries of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which boycotted the mini-summit, in attacking Brussels' handling of the crisis.
Pedro Sanchez, the new Spanish prime minister said: "There have been no concrete consequences", though the leaders of Belgium and Malta said some progress could be possible at Thursday's full summit.
However, Ms Merkel appeared resigned to pursuing bilateral migrant return agreements with individual countries rather than a common European solution. "Regarding the question: can we get bilateral and trilateral agreements in the coming days, this meeting is very important," she said.
Germans are turning against Ms Merkel's warring conservative union, which currently has its lowest approval rates since last November according to a poll published yesterday in 'Bild'. The same poll showed the anti-immigrant AfD reached its highest score ever, with 16pc.
Horst Seehofer, her interior minister and the leader of the CSU, has given her until the end of June to find a European deal to curb new arrivals. If that fails he vowed to order border police to turn back migrants, which means Mrs Merkel would be forced to back him or sack him. If she sacks him, her government could fall.
Meanwhile, Mr Macron's popularity in France hit a new low of 40pc after controversies over spending at his residences and cutting remarks on welfare benefits. The decline in popularity was particularly acute among France's over-65s. (© Daily Telegraph, London)