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Meloni claims win as EU approves final plank of migration reform – POLITICO


BRUSSELS — EU countries on Wednesday struck a deal on the last piece of a flagship migration package.

In a concession to win Italy’s crucial backing, a version of the text circulated Tuesday night and seen by POLITICO removed a reference favored by Germany on rescue missions by nongovernmental organizations.

EU countries approved the deal Wednesday morning, with Poland and Hungary voting against, while Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia abstained.

The move paves the way for the EU to reach a deal on reform of its asylum rules after nearly 10 years of failed attempts.

As a front-line country managing soaring migrant arrivals, Italy’s support was essential to unblock the deal on the so-called crisis regulation, which details measures to lift pressure on EU border countries facing spikes in people seeking asylum.

Italy unexpectedly blocked an initial compromise during a meeting of interior ministers last Thursday where Germany dropped its veto; German Greens had expressed concerns over migrants’ rights relating to the crisis regulation.

At that meeting, Italy’s right-wing government opposed language more in favor of the role of NGO missions to rescue migrants at sea, which had been proposed to get Germany on board.

Tuesday night’s version of the text dropped one of the two mentions of NGO rescue missions — the only one that was binding — in a symbolic move to soothe Italy’s concerns. And, according to three diplomats who were granted anonymity to discuss internal matters, a new text agreed by EU ambassadors on Wednesday hardened remaining language on NGOs.

The three diplomats described the move as a defeat for the German Greens and a victory for the Italian government. One of the diplomats suggested that Germany is counting on the European Parliament to restore language in favor of NGO rescue missions in negotiations down the line.

But a fourth diplomat downplayed the changes: “In practice, nothing has changed compared to last week’s text.”

This breakthrough comes just before EU leaders are set to gather for an informal summit in Granada, Spain on Thursday and Friday. Diplomats are hopeful that agreement on this key file can clear the way for leaders to avoid migration hijacking the discussion in Granada.

Italian and German government leaders Giorgia Meloni and Olaf Scholz had pressured coalition partners — the hard-right League and the left-wing Greens, respectively — to soften their stance to get the deal over the line, according to multiple diplomats with knowledge of the talks.

The move paves the way for the EU to reach a deal on reform of its asylum rules after nearly 10 years of failed attempts | Vincenzo Cricosta/AFP via Getty Images

And on Wednesday, both sides declared victory. German foreign minister and Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock said in a statement: We fought hard and successfully in Brussels right up to the last minute to ensure that minimum humanitarian standards, such as access to education and health care, were not watered down.” Meanwhile, Meloni in an interview with Sky was quoted as saying “the Italian position prevailed.”

Meloni and Scholz may hold a bilateral meeting in Granada to defuse recent tensions over the German government’s financing of NGOs operating in the Mediterranean, according to Italian media reports.

The European Parliament on Wednesday welcomed the agreement, which unblocks negotiations among EU countries on all files of the migration pact, enabling a final version of the migration pact to be approved early next year, ahead of the European election.

Hans von der Burchard contributed reporting from Berlin.

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