BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European leaders have reached an agreement on migration in the early hours of Friday following tough and lengthy negotiations, but commitments to strengthen borders were vague and a sleepy German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted differences on.
As part of the agreement reached after nine hours of often stormy talks, EU leaders agreed to distribute refugees on a voluntary basis in the bloc and within the European Union "controlled centers" for the processing of asylum applications.
They also agreed to share responsibility for the migrants rescued at sea, a key demand of new Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
"Italy is no longer alone," he said.
Conte, whose government includes the anti-establishment 5-star movement and the far-right league, had previously refused to sign a summit text on security and trade until other leaders had pledged to help Italy manage the Mediterranean arrivals help.
The meeting in Brussels underlined that the rise in immigration in Europe in 2015 continues to plague the bloc, although the number of people fleeing conflicts and economic difficulties in the Middle East and Africa has plummeted.
It took place in a political crisis mood in which German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a stronger stance against migration under strong political pressure at home.
Merkel, who spoke to reporters at 5:00 am (0300 GMT), tried to influence the outcome positively by saying that it was a good signal that the Heads of State and Government were working on a common text on the subject Could agree on migration.
However, she acknowledged that the block "still has much to do to bridge the different views".
French President Emmanuel Macron has sharply criticized Italy for banning an immigration rescue vessel from its ports. This European cooperation has "won the day".
In a concluding statement full of intricate phrases designed to accommodate divergent views, leaders agreed to restrict migration within the bloc, but made it clear that virtually all of their commitments were voluntary on their part would be carried out.
They also voted to tighten the external borders and increase funding for Turkey, Morocco and other North Africans to states to prevent migration to Europe.
It was unclear whether the agreement would be enough to appease Merkel's coalition partner CSU, which threatened to close down Bavaria's border with migrants. That could trigger the collapse of their three-month-old government and the EU Schengen zone of free travel.
Diplomats described a tense, tormented meeting with small groups of leaders who had come together in a desperate attempt to break the deadlock and avert the humiliation of going home without reaching an agreement.
Merkel and Conte reserved 45 minutes in the early evening for a talk, but to break it off after 20 minutes when the Italian leader refused the overture of the German leader, diplomats said.
Before the clash with the dinner on migration, the new head of government, which includes the anti-establishment 5-star movement and the right-wing league, refused to sign a summit text on security and trade until other leaders bowed his demands to help Italy in the management of the Mediterranean arrivals.
This forced Summit Chairman Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to cancel their planned press conference.
"It's so poisonous, they go into the room, collide, storm out, go back, collide again, no end in sight," said an angry diplomat as the dusk approached.
"It's pure politics that drives that emotions fly as high as 2015," said another EU diplomat.
According to the United Nations, less than 45,000 migrants have reached the European Union this year. This is a big slump against the wave of 2015, when many thousands arrived daily.
But the political upheavals are still felt throughout Europe, with populist, anti-immigration parties on the rise in many countries.
Ex-communist Easterners, led by Poles and Hungarians, still refuse to accept some of the new arrivals to relieve the burden on countries like Italy and Greece.
Reports by Francesco Guarascio, Philip Blenkinsop, Robert Jan Bartunek, Alissa de Carbonnel, Robin Emmott, Jan Strupczewski, Noah Barkin, Richard Lough, Jean-Baptiste Vey, Elizabeth Piper, Andreas Rinke, Peter Maushagen and Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Noah Barkin and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by David Stamp, William Maclean