Sunlight illuminates European Union (EU) member state national flags ahead of a EU leaders summit in the Europa building in Brussels. (Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg)

EU Summit Update: Leaders to Talk Migration, Trade, Euro, Brexit

(Bloomberg) -- European leaders gather in Brussels for a two-day summit, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel said may prove decisive for the bloc’s future. They arrive deeply divided over migration, at loggerheads over the architecture of the euro area, but more or less united on Brexit and on how to respond to the protectionist policies of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Conte Puts Migration Veto on Table (4:21 p.m. in Brussels)

“Today we will find out if European solidarity really exists or not,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said ahead of the summit. “If this time we don’t see that other European countries are ready to help, then we could end this summit without approving the common statement.”

“We won’t accept watered-down compromises,” he warned.

But in a sign of the discussions to come, French EU Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau told Bloomberg her government wants to hear more details from Italy.

The Italian government “has spoken about putting the centers in southern Mediterranean countries, but as far as I know there are none that are willing,” she said, referring to a proposal for the creation of facilities in north Africa to process would-be migrants before they reach EU territory.

For more on the tensions over migration, read:
Why European Tension Is Rising Over Migrants (Again): QuickTake
Italy’s Conte Puts Immigration Veto on Table in Merkel Meeting

Juncker Tells May: Get Cabinet in Line (3:04 p.m.)

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed his frustration about the lack of progress on Brexit -- in particular the lack of a consensus view from the British government.

“I don’t have to lecture Theresa May, but I would like our Britain friends to make clear their positions,” he told reporters. “We can’t go on to live with a split Cabinet. They have to say what they want and feel responsible.”

He also said the bloc is working on preparations for a no-deal Brexit -- that’s the chaos scenario feared especially by U.K. businesses -- though he didn’t give specifics. “We are preparing, how can I say, different scenarios,” he said. “An ordinary and proper withdrawal agreement, but in parallel we are working on a non-deal scenario.”

May has also taken reporters’ questions. The U.K. wants a partnership with the EU that works for both sides, she said, adding that she also wants negotiations to proceed at a faster pace.

But significant progress on Brexit may be difficult at this summit, given that the U.K. government has yet to publish -- or even agree on -- a vision of its future relationship with the bloc.

Rutte: Irish Border Is Brexit Priority (2:54 p.m.)

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters he understands it’s difficult for his British counterpart Theresa May to forge an agreement with her Cabinet and Parliament on Brexit. “But she has to,” he said. “I will do everything I can do to help her.”

He also described solving the contentious Irish border issue as the “first, second and third” priority in negotiations.

Tusk: Chaos If No Deal on Migration (2:43 p.m.)

EU Council President Donald Tusk said summit on migration Thursday should focus on bloc’s external borders and disembarkation platforms -- the alternative, he said, would be the chaotic closing of borders including within the EU, and growing conflicts between member states.

“Some may think I am too tough in my proposals on migration. But trust me, if we don’t agree on them, then you will see some really tough proposals from some really tough guys,” Tusk said.

‘Bavaria Can’t Decide Europe’s Future’ (2:05 p.m.)

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said he could imagine there not being an agreement on migration at the summit, highlighting the difficult discussions leaders are set to have later this evening.

He said he wasn’t happy about letting Merkel’s Bavarian sister party dictate immigration policy to the rest of the EU.

“It can’t be that a Bavarian party decides how Europe functions,” he said.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who’s refused to accept his country’s quota of immigrants under the existing system, struck an even tougher line.

“The invasion should be stopped and to stop the invasion means to have strong border control,” he told reporters.

EU Trade Chief Warns of Trade War (12:30 p.m.)

“We are not in a trade war yet but moving toward that,” European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters before a meeting of the liberal party. “We’re very concerned with what’s happening right now.”

Frayed transatlantic relations have left the EU to contend with tough decisions about its future defense, security and economic allegiances in a world where there may be no friends, enemies or rules, according to an EU diplomat. In a letter to leaders, EU Council President Donald Tusk laid it out: “Trans-Atlantic relations are under immense pressure due to the policies of President Trump. While hoping for the best, we must be ready to prepare our Union for worst-case scenarios.”

Migration Consensus?

At the same liberal meeting, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in an interview that leaders were working to curb migration to Europe by urging regions and countries “to have more Turkey-like agreements.”

That’s a reference to the 2016 agreement with Ankara that helped stem the flow of refugees from the Middle East into Greece.

Rutte suggested that such an initiative would help address both Italian concerns about new arrivals and Germany’s focus on where those people end up.

“By achieving that, we think we could de-escalate the tensions around the debate in the EU about secondary migration because if the numbers are lower it will be easier to come to an agreement,” he said.

“I’m very optimistic, to be honest,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters. “I think it’s possible to begin a big change in migration today.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.