The EU summit has not been a breakthrough, throwing the bloc's unity and Berlin's role as the union's flagship into question.
The refugee crisis has yet again come to the attention of European leaders with Italy bringing the issue to a head at the summit that took place in Brussels on June 28-29.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte threatened to veto the European Council's decision on migration demanding that concrete measures be taken. After nine-hour talks, a primary consensus was reached, which showed that "blackmail" worked. Ahead of the summit, Rome sent a strong signal to the block by refusing to accept rescue ships with hundreds of migrants aboard.
However, Italy's aspirations were not fully met, prompting The Sunday Times to say that "a deal to cut the flow of migrants from Africa may not be worth the paper it is written on because it has failed to bridge deep divisions across European capitals."
Germany Losing Veneer of EU Flagship
Meanwhile, it seems that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a longstanding proponent of the open border policy, has realized that she had overshot the mark. Following the summit, Merkel discussed the migration issue with Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), admitting later the necessity to reduce the flow of refugees coming to Europe.
Seehofer's tough stance is quite understandable given the upcoming Bavarian state elections: the AfD is hard on the CSU's heels. In late June the right-wing party held a two-day congress in Augsburg calling upon Hungary's Viktor Orban and Austria's Sebastian Kurz to create "Fortress Europe."
It appears that Germany's domestic hurdles and the chancellor's fading popularity gave a confidence boost to the new euroskeptic Italian government at the recent summit, while the European media is claiming that instead of boosting the bloc's unity, "Merkel broke the EU."
Trump-Putin Summit and EU Sanctions
Yet another issue brought into the summit's spotlight was the extension of anti-Russian sanctions. On the eve of the meeting, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini signaled Rome's discontent with the sanctions regime, while Conte highlighted, speaking at the parliament, that the renewal of the sanctions should not be "automatic." Although Rome has not vetoed the move, as some had expected, the decision to prolong the restrictions has yet to be formally confirmed.
According to Deutsche Welle, although EU leaders have officially agreed to extend anti-Russia economic measures for six months, the expected meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his American counterpart, Donald Trump, on July 16 in Helsinki "may disrupt a common stance."
Initially introduced in 2014, the sanctions regime is targeting Russia's financial, energy and defense industries. At the same time, it is blocking the access of Russian banks to the bloc's markets.
Brexit Agreement Postponed Again
Meanwhile, the detailed discussion of the Brexit problem was postponed again. Brussels has reportedly reconsidered an October deadline on the final agreement and is seeking to delay it to December 2018. The EU leadership's hesitancy has prompted controversy given the fact that Britain is due to leave the union in March 2019.
The existing ambiguity within the European bloc apparently indicates ongoing changes on the union's political arena, prompted both by the EU's internal problems and economic pressure exerted by Washington on its European allies, ranging from a tariff war, launched by US President Donald Trump, to the US withdrawal from a number of multilateral deals, involving the bloc.