Italy set to see migration demands met by EU
'We want change' Letta says24 October, 19:45
"We want the European Council to focus on giving a response," to Italy's ideas for reforms designed, among other points, to help prevent migrants from drowning at seas as they try to reach land in Italy, said the premier.
"We will adopt a very firm stance: we want the EU to change its attitude on the issue".
At least 400 migrants died off the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in two separate boat wrecks earlier this month as they tried to reach Italy from North Africa, prompting stronger government demands for help from the EU in dealing with the crisis.
Letta said such disasters must not ever recur.
Dealing with migrants is one of several issues on the table for EU leaders, who will also discuss economic reforms and strengthening Europe's digital economy.
The formal agenda threatened to be overshadowed Thursday by a scandal over allegations that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) had wiretapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as other governments and millions of European citizens.
Italy went into the sessions feeling optimistic that its four key demands on migrants will gain approval, after the European Commission said on Tuesday that Letta's strategy presented that same day to Italy's parliament is in line with EU thinking.
Letta's plan "converges with the Commission's priorities as announced", said a spokesperson for Interior Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem.
Letta told Italy's Lower House those four specific commitments include: "that the Lampedusa drama be considered a European issue; immediate measures to make EUROSUR operative and to strengthen (EU border control agency) FRONTEX; a plan of action to deal with the migration emergency; and dialogue with Mediterranean countries".
Italy must seize the opportunity presented by the heightened interest around migration to press for improvements to relevant laws, said Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge. "For the first time, even in Italy, the issue of immigration is back with another approach, and for the first time migrants are considered people," Kyenge said outside meetings in Florence.
Now, she added, is the time for deep reforms to Italy's controversial Bossi-Fini law which makes it a crime to be an undocumented migrant.
The law also formally envisages penalties for people who help seaborne migrants, because in so doing they are abetting people trafficking, but such sanctions have never been applied.
That law "must be reviewed at every institutional level," and reconsidered by authorities from local governments to the national level, she said.
Earlier in the day, the mayor of Lampedusa, first point of contact for tens of thousands of migrants sailing from Africa, also urged European leaders to reform immigration law. So many migrants arrive in Lampedusa, which is closer to Libya than Sicily, where resources are stretched beyond capacity.
"Do not disappoint us," said Mayor Giusi Nicolini, who repeated her call for changes to European laws regarding asylum seekers.
Nicolini has urged changes to the Dublin regulation affecting those who flee troubles in their homelands, often from North Africa and the Middle East.
"A policy that does not allow them to seek asylum before getting on those boats is an unjust policy". The European Union's Dublin regulation states that only one member state is responsible for the examination of asylum applications.
The aim of the regulation is to stop asylum seekers being sent from one country to another and help prevent abuse of the system.
But some have said it is preventing those countries most exposed to migrant arrivals benefiting from the solidarity of their fellow EU member States.