Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

EU leaders to focus on protecting external borders

  • Fence around Hungary: 'Sealing oneself off is not a sensible option in the 21st century' Merkel warned (Photo: Freedom House)

EU leaders will again focus on migration at their last summit this year, starting Thursday (17 December). They will concentrate efforts on salvaging the passport-free Schengen zone, after 1 million people seeking refuge made it to the bloc so far this year.

The year has seen divisions deepen between frontline states in the south struggling to protect external borders and destination countries in the north that want to stop the flow, an initially more welcoming western Europe and more closed eastern member states.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

EU leaders meeting in Brussels will focus on implementing previous decisions, such as setting up hotspots, relocating refugees from other member states, fingerprinting new arrivals, and making sure that countries return people who were not granted asylum.

“No one should have illusions, the priority needs to be regaining control over our external borders,” an EU official said.

As thousands continue to arrive to Greece every day, reception capacities of hotspots in Italy and Greece are still in the low hundreds, while fingerprinting new people according to EU rules is still random.

Member states have been dragging their feet in living up to earlier commitments.

Some also argue that policies, such as relocation - distributing refugees among EU member states to share the burden - simply do not function.

“The whole system is designed in a way that is not working,” an EU diplomat said.

However, the draft conclusions of the summit, seen by EUobserver, warn grimly: “For the Schengen acquis to be preserved it is indispensable to regain control over the external borders.”

'Noble, amusing'

Leaders will have a chance to give their first reaction to the EU commission’s proposal on beefing up external border protection with a new border guard agency that could be deployed in emergency situations to border sections under pressure without the consent of the member state concerned.

The proposal faces resistance from countries, most vocally from Hungary and Poland, as it requires member states to partly give up a core national sovereignty - border protection.

However, the commission argues that quick EU help is needed in crisis situations even when the member state is reluctant or unable to act, as in the recent case of Greece.

Germany is throwing its weight behind the proposal, with chancellor Angela Merkel saying Wednesday that the 28 members of the bloc should work together toward a “common European and international answer to sustainably reduce the number of refugees.”

“Sealing oneself off is not a sensible option in the 21st century," she told parliament, referring to countries trying to stem the flow of people with fences.

“That's why we must resist the temptation to fall back on national solutions,” she was quoted as saying by AFP.

While some member states agree with sharing assets, others remain concerned about sharing power with Brussels, as common efforts have so far showed little results with countries resorting to unilateral measures.

“There is a good reason to go ahead and share responsibility,” an EU diplomat said before the summit.

He likened the sharing of capabilities to recent efforts by eurozone members to create common buffers against further economic crises.

“If countries are in trouble it is clear we need to have imput from the European side, some resources need to be shared,” he added.

Others argue it is too little, too late.

“The proposal is noble, imaginative, part of the commission’s effort to raise the spirits and make the end of the year more amusing,” quipped an official, arguing that measures are needed which can be implemented now and not in 2020, when the new EU borders agency would be fully operational.

“We need to deploy people there now, instantly,” said the official.

New EU border force: 'right to intervene'

New EU border force, to be proposed Tuesday, would have “right to intervene” if member states fail to protect external boundaries, a draft text, seen by EUobserver, says.

EU refugee relocation grinds to near halt

Two months after agreement, only 160 refugees have been relocated from Greece and Italy, with just two EU "hotspots" out of 12 up and running.

Sweden to tap Hungary's EU relocation quota

Sweden, which hosts the most asylum seekers per capita, has asked other EU states to relocate some people under a quota originally designed for Hungary.

EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors

A two-year scheme to send asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU states fell short of its potential, say EU auditors. Some 35,000 were helped - but auditors say 445,000 in Greece alone could have also potentially benefited.

Erdogan: refugees will enter Europe unless EU does more

Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ankara will "open the doors" for refugees and migrants to enter Europe unless it does more to help. The EU says it won't help Turkey create a so-called "safe zone" in north-east Syria.

Opinion

Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us