Italy and Germany clash as migration rows split EU

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte hold a news conference at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

BRUSSELS/ROME (Reuters) – Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday a draft EU accord on migration had been withdrawn after he clashed with Chancellor Angela Merkel over an issue that is splitting Europe.

The leaders of four central European states, meanwhile, confirmed they would boycott an EU mini-summit on migration, taking a veiled swipe at Merkel by accusing countries of pushing the issue for domestic political reasons.

The withdrawn declaration had been drafted ahead of an emergency meeting of 10 EU leaders set for Sunday in Brussels, with Germany and France hoping for a swift deal that could be approved at a full EU summit at the end of next week.

It contained key elements Merkel needs to placate her rebellious coalition partner, the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU) and its head, Horst Seehofer, who is also Germany’s interior minister.

But Rome objected to provisions that said asylum seekers would have to be returned to the EU country they had first logged their claim in, which often means Italy.

Rome has taken in some 650,000 boat migrants over the past five years, stoking anti-immigration sentiment in Italy and fueling the rise of the far-right League, which forged a coalition government this month.

Conte, who had threatened not to go to Brussels on Sunday unless the draft was amended, spoke to Merkel on Thursday.