Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron
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Despite dire predictions of a European Union meltdown, the leaders' summit this week appeared to succeed in delivering a compromise agreement on dealing with the troublesome migration issue.
Beneath the "everyone's a winner" smiles, however, the upshot was undoubtedly a victory for Italy and other governments that have been pushing the EU to take a harder line on the question of refugees.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed a "European solution." European Council President Donald Tusk, who chaired the two-day summit in Brussels, also welcomed the apparent accord reached.
One suspects that the real concern for Macron, Merkel and Tusk was that the summit did not erupt into full-blown conflict between member states. Ahead of the meeting, Merkel had warned that it was "make or break" for the EU's survival to find a solution. It wasn't clear if the eurosceptic governments would even engage in dialogue, thereby bringing the 28-member bloc into disarray.
Merkel was also facing a political crisis at home if the EU did not come up with some kind of working arrangement over immigration. Her coalition partner, the Bavarian-based Christian Social Union, was threatening to collapse the Berlin government if Merkel could not get other EU members to formulate a common approach.
So, in the end, after all-night "virulent discussions," why the EU leaders are hailing a "compromise" and "European cooperation" is really a sense of relief that the bloc has managed to hold together -- for now.
The text of the summit's accord is vague. It remains to see how -- or if -- its aspirations will be implemented. In which case, the simmering tensions and rifts between EU members will boil up again.
The salient outcome is the EU has shifted to accommodate the demands made by Italy and other anti-immigrant governments in Austria and the Visegrad Four of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia. This was not a "compromise," as the EU leaders trumpeted. Rather, it was a climbdown by the Brussels establishment and pro-EU governments to placate the eurosceptics.
Italy's newcomer Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had forewarned that his country would veto any joint statement that did not address its demands. His threat seemed to work in forcing France and Germany in particular to concede.
The EU has agreed to set up "disembarkation platforms" in third-party countries in areas like North Africa in order to process asylum seekers before they reach European territory. That is something Italy and Austria have been strongly advocating.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said of the EU endorsing that idea: "We have long been calling for these protection areas, safe zones, landing centers, however, one wants to call them, outside of Europe " this idea has now prevailed."
There also is a new concept of setting up "controlled centers" for refugees in EU countries which will be the financial responsibility of Brussels. Italy has complained that as a frontline state for taking in refugees it has incurred a heavy financial burden on its national economy.
As Conte happily said following the agreement: "It was a long negotiation but from today Italy is no longer alone."
In principle, from now on refugees who land on Italian soil, or Spanish or Greek soil, will be viewed as arriving on EU territory, and will be processed with a collective responsibility to accommodate -- if their application for asylum is accepted.