Friday

7th Aug 2020

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 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

News in Brief

  1. Germany breached rights of Madeleine McCann suspect
  2. EU offers trade perks to Lebanon
  3. Germany charges four ex-Audi chiefs on emissions cheating
  4. UK quarantines Belgium, as European infections climb
  5. Bulgaria's Borissov mulls resignation
  6. EU prolongs anti-dumping duties on Chinese steel
  7. Swedish economy contracted less during April to June
  8. EU offers help to Lebanon after port explosion

Border pre-screening centres part of new EU migration pact

Michael Spindelegger, the former minister of foreign affairs of Austria and current director of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), reveals some of the proposals in the European Commission's upcoming pact on migration and asylum.

EU boosts pledges to relocate minors from Greece

Over 120 asylum seeking children and teenagers in Greece have so far been relocated to a handful of EU states in a scheme the European Commission says is a demonstration of solidarity. EU states have pledged to take in 2,000.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. Iraqis paid €2,000 each agree to leave Greece
  2. EU's most sustainable islands are Danish 'Sunshine Islands'
  3. Worrying rows over future EU chemicals policy
  4. Rainbow flag protesters charged by Polish police
  5. An open letter to the EPP on end of Hungary's press freedom
  6. Renew Europe has a plan to combat gender-violence
  7. Why EU beats US on green pandemic recovery
  8. Azerbaijan ambassador to EU shared anti-George Floyd post

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us