European Council on migration turns sour as Italy, Malta face off leaders

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi hits out: ‘You don’t deserve to be called Europe if you disagree with relocating 40,000 migrants’

Talks on migration between the EU heads of state and government reportedly turned sour with Italy and Malta facing off the rest of the leaders as they demanded the European Union to live up to its promises of solidarity.

The tension appeared to be about calls for the migration plan to be voluntary and not mandatory. An EU diplomat was quoted as saying that "the discussion was becoming increasingly emotional".

"There were fireworks," another one added. Reporters in Brussels said that an intervention by UK Prime Minister David Cameron on EU reforms was seen as "a break" from the migration talks.

By 2am, the mood in the Council was described as "very very bad". According to Bloomberg, much to the ire of leaders, European Council President Donald Tusk refused to let anyone leave the room until some sort of agreement is reached. While Tusk wants the decision about the relocation to taken by consensus, Commission President Jean Claude Juncker defended community method and the EU Treaty.

Ahead of the European Council, Tusk confirmed that there was no consensus among member states on migrant quotas. Perhaps a reflection of what went on in the meeting, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi reportedly lost his patience, accusing Europe of not living up to its name.

Interventions by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Renzi were described as “heated”.

According to Italian media La Repubblica, Renzi went as far as telling Europe to either show solidarity “or stop wasting our time”.

“If this is your idea of Europe, you can keep it,” he said, adding that Europe could no longer afford any more concessions, recalling the fall of the Berlin wall and the Srebrenica massacre.

The Lithuanian Prime Minister reportedly told Renzi: "Why should we be responsible for your failures", adding that her country had nothing to do with Italy's problems.

According to a draft final summit document, governments would agree to relocation over two years from Italy and Greece to other member states of 40,000 people needing protection. It said all member states would participate.

Some eastern and central European countries are reluctant to take refugees and sought guarantees that the system be temporary and voluntary. This however gave rise to questions on how the 40,000 migrants would be relocated if the scheme is voluntary.

Since the beginning of the year, some 153,000 migrants were detected at Europe’s external borders. According to a monthly analysis of migratory trends for May by Frontex, the largest increase was reported on the Western Balkan route where in the May the number of apprehended migrants exceeded 10,000.

Some 42,000 migrants leaving Libya have reached Italy so far.

In the first quarter of 2015, the EU received 185,000 first-time asylum seekers requests for protection. More than half applied for asylum in Germany, Hungary and Italy.

In an attempt to stop migrants from crossing over, Hungary is planning a 4 metre-high fence along the border with Serbia.