Italy pulls the brake on 11th-hour migration compromise – POLITICO

BRUSSELS — Italy is now dragging its feet on the final plank of the EU’s flagship migration reform — after Germany agreed to a long-awaited compromise. 

During a meeting of EU interior ministers, Rome in an unexpected last-minute move placed a decision over the so-called crisis regulation on hold, crushing hopes of reaching a deal by the end of the day.

Yet the EU home affairs chief Ylva Johansson guaranteed that EU ambassadors will sign off the agreement in the days to come.

“We are very close to find the final decision in a few days,” Johansson said in a Brussels press conference after the meeting alongside Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gómez.

The minister from Spain, which currently holds the rotating presidency for the Council of the EU, said that “points of details can be fine tuned,” echoing that, “We hope to finalize general approach over the coming days.”

A breakthrough on this issue would pave the way for an agreement on reform of EU asylum policy before the European election in June — after almost 10 years of failed reform attempts.  

“Italy didn’t say no … it has just asked for time,” said Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, speaking at a press conference in Berlin alongside his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock. Tajani added that more time is needed “to examine the content of this proposal from a legal point of view.”

Although no vote was on the agenda, ministers at their Thursday meeting had set out to reach a political agreement.

Earlier in the day, Germany’s center-left government dropped its veto over the deal, facilitating an agreement on the crisis regulation that details how EU border countries handle people seeking asylum during spikes in migration. The Greens — which belong to the German governing coalition — initially demanded the exemption of minors from border checks and opposed attempts to water down migrants’ rights in times of crisis.

“Today, we will be taking this compromise,” Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told fellow EU interior ministers during a public session in Brussels in the morning.

Germany dropping its veto means that technically, the deal should have enough votes to pass. But three diplomats, granted anonymity in order to speak freely, said that without Rome on board, any agreement is politically impossible. Italy has recently seen new peaks of migrant arrivals from North Africa via the Mediterranean Sea.

In a series of last-minute concessions intended to appease the German Greens, the Spanish Council presidency proposed a text that offered stronger human rights guarantees for migrants. But Italy had doubts over the new language, two other diplomats said.

In particular, Italy objected to softer wording on migrant rescue missions that was added to the most recent draft of the agreement, seen by POLITICO, according to the same two diplomats.

Such nongovernmental organizations are a thorn in the side of Italy’s right-wing government, which is at loggerheads with Berlin over the German government’s funding of humanitarian rescue missions off the Italian coast. 

EU ministers are facing mounting pressure to approve a deal amid surging migrant arrivals to Italy and ahead of European elections next year. The European Parliament last week blocked talks on key files of the EU’s migration pact, including the crisis regulation, in an attempt to compel member countries to approve it as soon as possible.

Hans Von der Burchard contributed reporting from Berlin.

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