EU summit deadlocked as Italy holds out for tougher action on migration

The EU’s 28 leaders are gathered in Brussels for crunch talks on immigration, a debate the European Council’s own president Donald Tusk admitted has become “incredibly heated”.

The tensions first surfaced on Thursday evening, when a news conference due to be held by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Mr Tusk was cancelled after over an hour’s delay.

An EU Council spokesperson blamed “one member” for refusing to agree a common position.

“No conclusions have been agreed at this stage,” they said.

Diplomats later identified the country as Italy, with subsequent briefings suggesting it was holding out for a “significant” increase in funds for Africa to stem the number of migrants travelling to European shores.

An Italian government source also said it wants to overhaul the Dublin Treaty, the EU-wide law that says asylum applications must be processed in the first country migrants arrive in.

Italy, which along with Spain and Malta has received the majority of undocumented migrants docking, insisted the system had to change.

A government source from the country added it would block a deal unless all other EU leaders agreed to set up centres to take asylum seekers arriving in Europe.

The migration crisis has pushed Brexit way down the agenda at this week’s summit, the last before the October deadline Britain and the EU hope a deal to be achieved by.

Prime Minister Theresa May urged for negotiations to move at a “faster pace than we have done up until now” and is only staying for the first of two days of talks.

When Brexit is eventually discussed, expected to be on Friday, she will be back in the UK.

But other topics could push Brexit further down still. A trade war with Washington, Russia, the eurozone, security and defence are all big issues on the agenda.

Sky News’ senior political correspondent Beth Rigby in Brussels said: “The big issue here is that migration crisis, Angela Merkel saying this is a make-or-break sit for the EU potentially and it appears they can’t get much agreement on it at all.”

“The Italian PM has blocked all memos tonight on any decision-making by the EU… They normally issue communiques on a range of matters… from defence to digital cooperation, all sorts of things.

“But the PM of Italy is very clear that he is not going to sign off on any of that until he’s got some sort of agreement on the migration crisis. His view is nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

“He is obviously the head of a frontier state in the EU and he feels that Italy is having to take too many migrants in and the other EU partners are not sharing the burden and that’s what he’s taking Angela Merkel to task on and he’s holding her feet to the fire on it.

“It appears that migration crisis is blowing up here tonight with not much sign of resolution for now.”

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