European leaders reached an agreement on migration following nine hours of difficult talks on the last day of the summit on Friday (29 June), although German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that differences remained on the issue that has begun to threaten her own political career. EU leaders in the end agreed to redistribute refugees arriving in the bloc on a voluntary basis and set up “controlled centers” inside the European Union to process asylum requests. They also agreed to assume shared responsibility for migrants rescued at sea, which was a key demand from the Italian leadership.
“Italy is not alone anymore,” Italy’s new prime minister, Giuseppe Conte said. Mr. Conte had earlier refused to endorse a summit text on security and trade until others had vowed to help his country manage Mediterranean migrant crossings. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, whose League party wanted to bar migrants fleeing Africa and expel those already in Italy, said he was “satisfied and proud of our government’s results in Brussels”. “Finally Europe has been forced to discuss an Italian proposal… (and) finally Italy is no longer isolated and has returned to being a protagonist,” he said.
The summit stressed the renewed need to address the migration issue that peaked in 2015 and continues to haunt the EU’s leaders and citizens. Although the number of arrivals is much lower now, many migrants still face perils on their way to Europe. The United Nations aid agencies responded positively to the new EU migration deal: “We will welcome any outcome that leads to a more collaborative and harmonized approach to asylum, also one that has at its core and priority saving lives at sea,” said Charlie Yaxley of the refugee agency UNHCR.