EU leaders yesterday faced deep divisions on migration at a summit in Brussels that the embattled German Chancellor Angela Merkel said could decide the fate of the bloc itself.
The meeting comes amid warnings that authoritarian and "anti-European" movements will profit from any failure by the 28 leaders to deal with a flare-up of tensions over migrants that has put Merkel's political future in the balance.
The rise of Italy's new populist government and bitter rows over its refusal to take in migrants arriving on rescue boats have revived divisions, despite the fact that arrivals have dipped sharply since the 2015 migration crisis.
Italy comes to the EU gathering emboldened by the announcement that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will on July 30 viit US President Donald Trump, who has hailed Rome's tough stance.
"Europe has many challenges but migration could end up determining Europe's destiny," Merkel told German lawmakers hours ahead of the summit.
The bloc can decide to "overcome the challenge in a way that people in Africa or elsewhere believe that we are guided by our values," she said.
Or, in a manner where "no one will believe in our value system that has made us so strong."
Merkel, for years Europe's most powerful leader, now risks seeing her fragile coalition collapse if she cannot reach migrant deals with other countries including Italy's new government of far-right and anti-establishment parties.
After allowing more than one million asylum seekers into Germany since 2015, Merkel faces an end-of-the-month deadline from her own interior minister to seal pacts that would let Germany turn back asylum seekers already registered in other EU states.
The leaders hope at the summit to approve work on migrant "disembarkation platforms" in countries outside Europe, most likely in Africa, although EU officials have been vague on what form they would take.
In a bone to Merkel, the leaders will also agree to "closely cooperate" on stopping secondary movements of migrants, according to draft summit conclusions, although the language may be weaker than she would have hoped.
A "mini-summit" of 16 leaders in Brussels on Sunday failed to make much headway.
Meanwhile, operators of the charity rescue boat Lifeline stranded for nearly a week in the Mediterranean with 230 migrants aboard said yesterday they had been "cooperating" with authorities since docking in Malta.