Sunday

20th Jan 2019

EU buries migration dispute for now

  • Migrants sent back from the Greek island of Lesbos. An EU official said the measure of success will be the rate of returns. (Photo: Reuters)

With the number of migrants entering Europe relatively under control and no real decision to be taken, EU officials and diplomats say this week's European Council summit "will not be a migration crisis summit". But divergences will be brewing around the table.

"We are slowly turning the corner," European Council president Donald Tusk said in his invitation letter to the summit.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

He pointed out that migrant arrivals in Greece were down 98 percent in September compared with last year, that they were at the same level on the central Mediterranean route as the two previous years, and that twice as many irregular migrants have been returned so far this year as in 2015.

Discussions on the issue are now "less confrontational" than a few months ago, a diplomat said, because the situation is less pressing and all leaders agree that it is urgent to implement decisions already taken.

But that does not mean that differences have disappeared, and the summit could prefigure difficult discussions ahead.

"Very clearly, last year’s package doesn’t work," another diplomat said, adding than EU leaders had "a frank discussion" when 27 of them met in Bratislava in September.

"Many member states had a strong position and agreed that it would be better to have more flexible solutions," the diplomat said.

At the summit on Thursday, leaders will focus on border controls, a few days after the EU border and coast guard became operational.

They will call for "a swift adoption" of a revision of the Schengen borders code to enforce systematic controls, and will ask the European Commission to come up with a proposal on an entry/exit system before the end of the year, according to draft conclusions seen by EUobserver.

Absolute necessity

"Border control remains an absolute necessity. We'll return to a normal situation only if we restore full control of the external border," the first diplomat said.

Leaders will also discuss the so-called compacts set up with five African countries - Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Ethiopia - to manage the flows of migrants, increase returns and try to solve the "root causes" of migration.

The commission presented a first assessment on Tuesday but leaders will wait until December to decide if the plan works and whether to extend it to other countries.

"Most of member states will expect results in December," a top EU official said, adding that "at the end of the day, the measure of success will be the rate of returns" of migrants to their country of origin.

Some EU countries would already like to include new countries in the plan, like Egypt, Afghanistan or Pakistan. But the commission and other member states are more wary.

In their conclusions, leaders will call for "work to be continued" on the reform of the EU asylum system, the Dublin system, before they take a decision in December.

They will say that the reform will have to "apply the principles of responsibility and solidarity in the future", the code words that refer to the most acute controversy, over the relocation of asylum seekers to member states.

After several member states, notably Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, rejected a temporary relocation mechanism for 160,000 people last year, the commission proposed in April a permanent and mandatory system, with fines for recalcitrant countries.

Flexible solidarity

Faced with the failure of the temporary plan - about 4,500 people have been relocated in the first year - and more opposition, the commission's president Jean-Claude Juncker admitted in September that "solidarity cannot be forced".

But tensions continue to run high between leaders. While Hungary's Viktor Orban organised a referendum against the idea of relocation, Italy's Matteo Renzi said this week that the EU should open infraction procedures against countries that refuse to take migrants.

"We have solidarity, but we want to want to choose the way to do it," a diplomat from a reluctant country said. "We need reform on migration, but we don’t need reforms that don’t work."

The EU calendar put the asylum reform in the hands of Slovakia, one of the most critical countries, which holds the six-month rotating presidency.

Bratislava is expected to bring ideas forward soon, that will try to square the circle between the permanent and the voluntary aspects of solidarity.

The concept of "flexible solidarity" that Slovakia put forward in September with its partners from the Visegrad group – Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic – could then be on the table, helping to revive their disagreements with the countries that have to deal with thousands of refugees.

EU seeks migration deal with African states

Focus on migration is shifting towards stopping flows from Africa with plans to cut deals with handful of origin countries before the end of the year.

Opinion

How to monitor the EU's new border security strategy

EU compliance with adequate human rights standards, the principle of non-refoulement and fair access to asylum procedures needs to be reviewed through new guidelines and mechanisms.

Eight EU states take migrants stranded on NGO boats

France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania have agreed to relocate the 49 migrants stuck on two NGO boats moored, for almost three weeks, off Malta's coast.

News in Brief

  1. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  2. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  3. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden
  4. Putin opposes EU prospects of Serbia and Kosovo
  5. Tsipras launches campaign to ratify Macedonia deal
  6. US-EU meeting in doubt after Trump cancels plane
  7. Germany and China to sign pact on finance cooperation
  8. Labour divided on second Brexit vote plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK
  2. Germany led way on EU rights protection
  3. How to troll the European Parliament elections
  4. MEPs in Strasbourg: everywhere but the plenary
  5. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  6. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  7. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  8. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us