European Union leaders meeting Friday in Brussels hailed progress in reaching at least a partial deal on migration. But there appeared to be little breakthrough in two other key subjects: Brexit and reforming the eurozone financial union.
It took marathon talks lasting until early Friday for EU leaders to reach a partial and vaguely worded agreement on migration, a subject that bitterly divides the 28-member group.
EU chief Donald Tusk acknowledged a long road ahead.
“As regards our deal on migration,” he said, “it is far too early to talk about a success. We have managed to reach a deal in the European Council, but this is the easiest part of the task.”
The toughest part, Tusk said, will be in its implementation.
The leaders agreed to tighten the EU’s external borders, set up centers inside and outside Europe to screen asylum-seekers and more rapidly process their claims. But the centers are voluntary and it is not clear which countries would be willing to host them.
Many analysts say the deal merely papers over deep divides that have seen Italy insisting other countries take in more migrants — something Eastern European countries, in particular, refuse to do.
Still, a number of European leaders were upbeat about making any headway.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the agreement was a good signal. While more needed to be done to create a common asylum process, she said she was optimistic the EU could continue its work.
Merkel has been under pressure to come home with some kind of deal or face the possible collapse of her coalition government.
President Emmanuel Macron of France said the deal reflected European cooperation and values and that protected European citizens.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also seemed satisfied, saying his country was no longer alone in dealing with floods of migrant arrivals.
The number of migrants arriving in Europe has plummeted in recent months, down from more than a million in 2015 to tens of thousands so far this year. Many Europeans continue to view migration as a crisis — sentiments partly fueled by populist politicians and fears of Islamist extremism.
Humanitarian group MSF, or Doctors Without Borders, has sharply criticized the migrant deal as inhumane, claiming it would block people escaping horrors at home from reaching Europe.
It is clear the migration crisis is not going away. A pair of ships carrying migrants were at sea for several days until bickering countries finally gave them safe harbor. On Friday, Libya’s coast guard announced roughly 100 migrants were missing at sea and feared dead.
EU leaders failed to make headway on two other issues — closer integration of the eurozone monetary union, and Brexit, which is the term used to refer to Britain’s decision to leave the EU. As for the latter, EU chief Tusk said the most difficult issues in reaching a deal between the EU and Britain by October remained unresolved.