At a "make or break" summit, European leaders are hoping to clinch a deal on migration. The European Council president warned that the alternative would be "some really tough proposals from some really tough guys."
European Union leaders are huddling together in Brussels on Thursday, where over the next two days they will discuss security, trade and, most importantly, migration.
Stakes are high after German Chancellor Angela Merkel described irregular migration as an issue that could "make or break" the EU. At home, she is under pressure to secure a bloc-wide deal or face the possible collapse of her government.
Some of the measures Merkel is hoping to clinch during the summit include bolstering Frontex, the EU's border management agency, establishing a "solidarity-based agreement" to share the burden of hosting asylum-seekers and shoring up support for returning migrants under the Dublin system.
"Defense of our external borders is something which unites Europe. (We will talk about ) the issues of Frontex, border protection, secondary migration. The countries that are receiving a lot of refugees need support. But the refugees and migrants can't choose in which country they request asylum," Merkel said at the summit.
Several nations, including France, Hungary, have told reporters at the summit that they are open to bilateral agreements with Germany.
But by Thursday evening, Italy had vowed to block progress on any issue to pressure fellow members into action on migration. Leaders had hoped to pass joint statements on a range of issues and then come to an agreement on migration.
A French diplomatic source said on Thursday evening that France, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands and Spain had agreed on the wording of a draft summit text on immigration.
Finding common views
For Council President Donald Tusk, EU leaders should focus on the parts where there is the possibility of reaching an agreement, such as the bloc's external border and a project to create disembarkation platforms.
"The alternative to this solution would be a chaotically advancing closure of borders – also within the EU – as well as growing conflict among EU member states," said Tusk. "Trust me, if we don't agree on them, then you will some really tough proposals from some really tough guys."
But even the task of finding commonalities across the 28 members of the EU will be challenging as right-wing governments pushed for hardline policies that threaten freedom of movement within the bloc.
Meanwhile, Morocco has rejected the idea of setting up stations for migrants to determine who is eligible for asylum in Europe. Morocco is used as the base for the Western Mediterranean to Spain, used primarily by Algerians, Ivorians and Moroccans.
Merkel said: "We can talk about landing ships (of migrants) in other countries, for example in North Africa. But we need to talk with these countries. We can't do this over their heads. The EU-Turkey deal was one that both sides agreed to. So we need to talk about the needs of these countries. We need to do this together with the UNHCR and the IOM."
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini called for an additional €1 billion in funds for long-term aid to African nations to help them combat conditions that lead to people heading to Europe.
Not 'one person more'
Matteo Salvini, Italy's firebrand interior minister, has been instrumental in raising the level of confrontation in Europe by preventing rescue shops carrying migrants from docking at Italian ports, saying: "We cannot take one person more."
Salvini has found support for his hardline policies from German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, Austria and Visegrad countries, including Poland and Hungary.
Read more: Where do EU countries stand on migration?
"We push for action based on consensus, not imposed relocation. We are against imposed relocation. As regards secondary migration, Poland has tough asylum regulation and will stick to these tough asylum regulations," said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
The Visegrad leaders met early on with Macron, telling news outlets they had agreed on strengthening the EU's external borders, but were less focused on secondary migration.
However, Merkel has received support from some EU leaders for her proposed measures, including Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila.
ls/aw (Reuters, dpa)