Can EU agree on response to migrant crisis?

Man rescues shipwrecked migrant from the Aegean sea off island of Rhodes Image copyright AP
Image caption Many migrants are shipwrecked before they can reach their destination or be rescued

The EU has called an emergency summit on migration for Thursday. What can realistically be achieved?

With the world watching and a European public appalled by the scenes of death and devastation in the Mediterranean, the EU is now scrambling to show it can effectively deal with its migrant crisis.

Following a special meeting of foreign and interior ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, an emotional Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, said she spoke as a mother, a human being and an Italian, as well as in her official capacity when she admitted there was no justification for why it had taken the EU so long to act.

But, she insisted, the bloc has now turned a corner with all its member countries "finally" accepting that the migrant crisis is a European issue, not just a problem for frontline states such as Italy or Greece.

It is certainly rare for the 28-member EU to speak with one voice but this was one such occasion.

EU countries have approved boosting maritime and border patrols in the Mediterranean, targeting people smugglers and working with migrants' home countries and the nations they travel through to try to dissuade people from taking to the seas in the first place.

These proposals are not new but the sense of EU solidarity and common purpose is.

It's unlikely to last long, though.

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Media captionEU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini: "Now is not the time for words, now is time for action"

Theory and practice

Arguing and wrangling will almost certainly be back on the agenda at an emergency summit of EU leaders this Thursday as they hammer out the details of what to do next.

The migration proposals will be costly financially and possibly also politically for EU countries. Britain is not the only place with a general election this year and immigration is an explosive issue.

That is partly why, until now, countries not directly affected by the crisis preferred not to be involved. The migration debate is exploited by populist parties across Europe. Governments also felt that money was tight following the economic downturn.

This highlights one of the EU's fundamental weaknesses.

To tackle the migration issue effectively you need co-operation, money and political will in all of the EU's 28 member states.

Even if a common migration policy is eventually decided, the EU Commission has no means of enforcing its implementation.

Just look at how a number of countries routinely ignore the rules of the EU asylum policy.

Also, while EU countries may agree to proposals in theory, how will they work in practice?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Survivors of a migrant boat sinking off Libya arrived in Sicily late on Monday

For example, Italy says more than 90% of the migrants arriving on their shores board their overcrowded boats in Libya but there is no stable authority there for the EU to deal with.

No quick fix

So can we expect concrete results from Thursday's meeting?

EU officials and EU government ministers are human beings.

They too will have been moved by the scenes of humanitarian disaster witnessed out in the Mediterranean.

Italy wants more money and EU solidarity, Britain prefers to target the people smugglers, Germany (inundated by asylum claims) wants to share the responsibility for refugees and asylum seekers across EU countries.

Even now in their expressions of concern you can see where politicians' national interests lie.

They vary dramatically across the EU and that doesn't bode well for the migrants at sea.

There are no quick-fix solutions. If there were they would have been implemented already.

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