Italy's Renzi slams EU leaders over migrant quotas

Christian Spillmann
Migrants sit in line after disembarking upon their arrival in the port of Catania on the coast of Sicily on June 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/Giovanni Isolino)

Migrants sit in line after disembarking upon their arrival in the port of Catania on the coast of Sicily on June 8, 2015

Migrants sit in line after disembarking upon their arrival in the port of Catania on the coast of Sicily on June 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/Giovanni Isolino)

Brussels (AFP) - Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lashed out at fellow EU leaders for rejecting mandatory migrant quotas amid sharp divisions over how to halt the tide of humanity washing up on Europe's southern shores.

Diplomatic sources said discussion at a late-running summit dinner became increasingly heated and "emotional" as Renzi accused his peers of looking after only their own interests.

"If that's your idea of Europe, you can keep it," Renzi told his 27 counterparts, Italian sources told AFP.

"Either give us solidarity or don't waste our time," they quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile the EU's two top figures, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, also clashed at the meeting as divisions deepened, a European source said.

Juncker is the driving force behind proposals by the Commission, the executive arm of the EU, that 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum-seekers who have already arrived in Europe should be redistributed according to a compulsory system.

Tusk, the former Polish premier whose country now opposes the quota system, and ex-Luxembourg prime minister Juncker argued about legal aspects behind the union's plan to tackle the migration crisis, the source added.

Tempers boiled over during the summit dinner after EU leaders failed to reach a consensus on mandatory quotas for migrants who land in frontline states such as Italy, Greece and Malta.

"If you don't want to take the 40,000 you are not fit to be called Europe," added Renzi.

More than 100,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, most of them landing in Italy, Greece and Malta who say their EU partners should share more of the burden.

- 'No consensus' -

The EU agreed an action plan at emergency summit in April after around 800 migrants died when their boat sank in one of the worst disasters of its kind in the Mediterranean.

Tusk said earlier Thursday there was "no consensus" on quotas, meaning member states opposed to the idea should make realistic voluntary offers of refuge to deal with the upsurge in migrants.

"The voluntary scheme cannot be an excuse to do nothing. I can understand those who want this voluntary mechanism but they will only be credible if they give precise and significant pledges by the end of July at the latest," he said.

"Solidarity without sacrifice is pure hypocrisy. Now we don't need empty declarations on solidarity, only deeds and numbers," said Tusk.

Britain, Hungary and other newer east European member states have balked at quotas due to growing opposition to increased migration at home.

The former Polish premier said he believed it would take time to build a consensus on migrants but the EU had to take action now.

"We need to contain illegal migration and this should be our priority," he said.

A draft summit statement seen by AFP makes no mention of mandatory quotas but calls on EU leaders to accept the Commission's resettlement proposals.

The migration row managed to overshadow both the Greek debt crisis and British Prime Minister David Cameron's push for EU reforms ahead of a referendum on membership of the bloc.

One official said a brief dinnertime speech that Cameron made to launch his plan at the summit "was very useful... it gave us time to rewrite the migration draft."