European Union leaders to hold mini-migration summit as crisis festers

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has become the public face of Italy's new unbending line on migrants

The leaders of 16 European Union member states gathered in Brussels on Sunday for an "informal working meeting" hastily arranged amid a crackdown on NGO rescue ships operating in the Mediterranean Sea.

Although no formal agreements were reached Sunday, ahead of a full summit on Thursday, the toughened attitudes toward migrants were on stark display. That would have a knock-on effect on other European Union states, hit cross-border business and travel.

Referring to hasty arrangements and a domestic crisis over migration policies within Merkel's coalition government, the fervently anti-migrant Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, said: "We understand that countries have domestic political difficulties, but this can't result in pan-European confusion".

At an informal meeting of 16 European Union leaders in Brussels, Giuseppe Conte called for shared European Union responsibility for rescued migrants and penalties for countries refusing to accept quotas.

"The rescue obligation cannot become an obligation to process (asylum) requests on everyone's behalf", the document said.

French President Emmanuel Macron urged his counterparts to take advantage of the sharp drop in migrant arrivals since a 2015 peak - Europe's worst such crisis since World War II - to find solutions.

The Italians, Greeks and Spaniards have recently borne the brunt of migrants coming from the Middle East and Africa, even after migrant boat travel to Greece from Turkey has been curtailed through a special deal promoted by the Germans.

Italy's populist 5-Star Movement demands that European countries act to deal with hundreds of thousands of migrants on the continent, warning that the future of Europe is at stake.

But Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the Lifeline "broke rules" by ignoring Italy's directions and should move towards its original destination "to prevent escalation".

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Merkel has been badly weakened in recent weeks by an anti-migration rebellion inside her own conservative coalition, making her more vulnerable than at any other point in her 13-year leadership.

After hours of discussion Sunday, Merkel emerged speaking of increased "goodwill" and a good discussion, which would have been impossible given the time constraints of a normal summit.

Malta - which is also refusing to take in the boat in a new diplomatic standoff with Italy - nevertheless said it had sent in humanitarian supplies.

Italy said yesterday (21 June) that it would seize two rescue migrant ships, one of which is stranded in the Mediterranean carrying over 200 migrants, adding that they were "illegally" flying the Dutch flag. Spain has seen a sharp rise in migrant arrivals.

As previously reported "FACTS", June 28-29 in Brussels will be a meeting of the European Council, where one of the main issues will be the decision of the migration crisis and the improvement of the European system for granting asylum to refugees. The decline is even starker compared with 2016: It equals just 19 per cent of the same period in 2016. Last year, Italy made a similar bargain with Libya.

Instead of hard overall deals among all member states, she said it was "also about bi- and trilateral agreements for mutual benefit".

The survey by Forsa for broadcasters N-tv and RTL showed that 71 percent of respondents supported Merkel's view that European countries should work together on finding a solution, over Interior Minister Horst Seehofer's nationally-focused plans, Die Welt reported Monday.

Merkel left the summit saying there was "a lot of goodwill" during the meeting, and participants agreed to strengthen external borders and share the migration burden among all countries.

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