EU summit to discuss migration, Croatia, appoint ECB head
European Union leaders were expected to wrap up their two-day summit on Friday by approving a limited reform of the Schengen border free area, appoint a new head of the European Central Bank and cautiously welcome Croatia into the bloc, DPA reported.
They were also set to discuss foreign policy, with Syria, Libya and the Middle East peace process on their minds.
Reacting to France and Italy's calls to make it easier to reintroduce internal border controls after a quarrel over an influx of migrants from North Africa, EU leaders were set to allow for such a mechanism only under "exceptional circumstances."
Frontier checks can currently be introduced for up to 30 days in case of threats to national security. That provision has been used during summits and major sporting events, although Denmark has stirred controversy with plans to invoke it to deal with an alleged threat from foreign criminals.
In draft conclusions, EU leaders ask the European Commission to draft a reform by September, warning that controls should be reintroduced only "as a very last resort ... in a truly critical situation ... for a strictly limited scope and period of time."
Diplomats say that Eastern European countries, which were among the newest cohorts of the Schengen area, were the most reluctant to approve what they see as a potential rollback of the freedom of movement within the EU.
Leaders were also expected to appoint Italian central banker Mario Draghi to the head of the European Central Bank (ECB) for an eight-year mandate starting on November 1, draft conclusions showed.
That seemed to dispel speculation that a Franco-Italian spat over representation in the ECB's executive board could have blocked the appointment.
Croatia was also in line to receive a green light for the conclusion of its EU accession talks by the end of the month, clearing the way for it to be welcomed as the bloc's 28th member in July 2013.
Leaders, however, did not commit to the date, and stressed that the Balkan country is to be monitored "up to accession," particularly "as regards the judiciary and fundamental rights."
The EU summit was also poised to renew calls for Libyan leader Moamer Gaddafi "to relinquish power immediately" and reiterate support for "Libya's democratic transformation."
However, amid growing fatigue over NATO's military intervention, a reference in an earlier draft to the "earliest conclusion of the conflict in Libya (remaining) a primary interest of the European Union" was tellingly struck down.
The summit was expected to welcome expanded EU sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, which entered into force Friday, and call for the United Nations Security Council to "give adequate response to the situation in Syria."
Plans by the Palestinians to ask for UN recognition of their state in September were expected to be the subject of sensitive discussions, with a looming EU split on the issue clouding the talks.
The bloc hopes to stave off that risk by pushing for a resumption of peace talks with Israel, which should convince the Palestinians to hold off on their initiative.
"Only the resumption of direct negotiations could provide a realistic chance of improving the situation on the ground, thus leading to a lasting and comprehensive solution," draft EU summit conclusions read.